Cool in School: Cedar Park Elementary is 'BUZ'ing about STEM

6:30 AM, Mar 25, 2010   |    comments
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Cedar Park Elementary students explore in the BUZ room

APPLE VALLEY, Minn. -- Amy Griglak's first graders burst into the BUZ room at Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley with excitement in their eyes, and purpose in their stride.

In small groups they navigate toward various stations where experts from "The Works" have set up tasks to either complete or explore.

"BUZ stands for Building Understanding Zone," says Jaimie Holtz, curriculum coordinator for Cedar Park.

Cedar Park is a school that's focusing on STEM, which is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. 

It's part of a nationwide movement to prepare students for jobs in the 21st century.

The BUZ room changes themes every trimester to allow for the exploration of the different disciplines.  Because The Works is a museum of science and engineering, Cedar Park has asked the museum to help with the engineering component.

"We really try to emphasize that engineering is creative, and engineers use their creativity and their prior knowledge of science and math or other disciplines, too, to solve problems," says Emily Carroll of The Works.

That's why you'll find students making bridges out of magnets, sending miniature cars down homemade tracks, or programming bee-shaped robots to move.  It's all an effort to encourage students to explore cause and effect, and discover their own solutions to a challenge.

"They get a chance to find things that they wouldn't normally do at school," says Griglak of the BUZ room. 

Her students visit about once a week, and each time they learn something new through a process of trial and error.

"The best thing, I think especially about the design process here," says Griglak, "is that they start off, and they're ok with it not working the first time.  And then they'll try a second time, and a third time, and even after it works, they still don't stop."

First grader Nandana Nair says she likes the BUZ room because, "You can do a lot of cool stuff in it, and you learn more about stuff."

That "stuff" generally involves engineering and science, both components of STEM, which Cedar Park incorporates throughout it's academic program.

"So when we're looking at our literacy block, we take what our science unit is," says Holtz, "and we find ways to enrich it with what we're teaching them how to read and write."

The BUZ room is where the school can place a special emphasis on some aspect of STEM. 

Last year the school worked with the The Bell Museum of Natural History to create a theme centered around living things and environments.

With funding tight, the school is hoping to create an exhibit introducing maps and exploration using the talents of district staff.

For Griglak, it's a chance to let her lessons breathe a bit, and give her students time to test out new theories.

First grader Cooper Kreutzmann is fine with that.  Today he's testing out a car he designed from paper, straws and lifesavers.  The next time he's in the BUZ room, he'll do something completely different.  But the path he wants to follow is the same throughout.

"Probably a scientist and an engineer," says Cooper as he shows off his latest engineering creation.

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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