Edgerton elementary school's new STEM center encourages creativity, teamwork
Edgerton classes use Community Elementary School's new STEM room to conduct experiments that help them learn not only
about technology and math, but also how to troubleshoot and become independent learners.
By Jake Magee
EDGERTON—How can you make a weak material stronger?
That was the question posed to third-graders in Community Elementary School's fancy, new STEM—science,
technology, engineering and math—room Monday afternoon.
“Making it thicker,” 9-year-old Beckett Johnson said.
“Stacking it,” a young girl responded.
Talented and gifted programming coordinator Sheila Fox didn't want to hear the students' answers, though. She
wanted to see them.
Split into groups of four and placed at different-colored stations, the students were told to construct the tallest,
strongest tower possible using only 100 index cards and one meter of masking tape.
Fox warned students that after 25 minutes had passed, she would place a flat piece of cardboard on each tower
and stack it with Beanie Babies until it collapsed.
Beckett and his team at the purple station got to work right away, cutting slits in each card and sliding them into
other cards to create hollow columns the group planned to link together. As each column grew, it became
increasingly weaker, requiring the students to hold it together with tape.
“I don't think any of this is gonna work,” Beckett said in desperation as time ticked away.
While Beckett and his team went for height, constantly measuring how tall the tower stretched, other groups
prioritized strength. The blue group constructed a short “tower” made of folded index cards taped to flat index
cards as a foundation.
Beckett hopped up and down as his team scrambled to add its finishing touches.
“Holy cow, you sweat a lot when you do this!” he exclaimed.
When the clock hit zero, students lined up along the wall and watched with bated breath as Fox tested each
The third-grade class is one of several that use the new STEM room to conduct experiments. The projects help
them learn about technology and math and how to troubleshoot and think independently.
The idea for a dedicated STEM room started two years ago, when Fox was taking small groups of advanced
students to the high school for STEM lessons.
“But the problem in my mind was I'm only taking 20 fifth-graders, and I have 130 fifth-graders that would love
to go,” she said.
When the school upgraded from a dedicated computer lab to Chromebooks, school officials converted the
computer lab into a STEM room. It's now a bright laboratory with a Lego wall, magnet station, 3D printer,
industrial-style shelving, iPads and colored stations with chairs to match.
“Staff interest, national trends and the availability of a really cool space kind of all came together and kind of lit
the spark,” Principal Drew Wellman said.
The school paid for the center through fundraising. It raised $40,000—$10,000 more than its goal—and $15,000
of that came from the parent-teacher organization Rascal Community Club, officials said.
“People latched onto it,” Fox said. “I don't think we ever dreamed we'd be at this point this soon, but the
Edgerton community was fantastic.”
The center looks like a play zone, but it's a rich learning opportunity in disguise, and students can't get enough of
it. Kids laughed and smiled as they worked in teams to build their index card creations.
“The kids know that when they come in here, it's time to get creative,” said Adam Gould, a fifth-grade science
and math teacher. "Everyone wants to come in the STEM center, and you get them in here, and you get them
thinking about things, it's just a win-win."
Even students from Yahara Elementary School are bused in for lessons in the STEM center.
Edgerton's goal with STEM curriculum isn't to just teach students about new job fields. It's to train them to think
critically and in groups, Fox said.
Each student is expected to share thoughts and ideas, but success requires give and take, Gould said.
“You don't always get your way,” he said.
Fox hopes a concentration on STEM breaks stereotypes. Girls can be just as successful in STEM fields as boys,
Beckett's group's tower might have been the tallest, but it didn't stand up to Fox's Beanie Baby test. It toppled
the moment she placed the piece of cardboard on top.
The same thing happened with the red group's structure.
The blue group's creation, however, held the weight of nine Beanie Babies before collapsing. The students'
excitement grew with each doll added.
“We should've done that,” a girl from the red team said after seeing the blue group's success.
Fox asked the students to consider why their towers did or didn't work. Teacher Andrea Johnson pointed out that
doing experiments such as this one, especially in groups, can be both frustrating and exciting. That's OK as long
as you keep trying, she said.
“That makes you problem-solvers,” Fox said.
The kids groaned when Fox announced their STEM time was done. She asked when they wanted to come back
for another lesson.
“Tomorrow,” they answered in unison.