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Grant illuminates STEM learning

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Chilton County Schools Enrichment teachers have received a Bright Ideas grant from the Central Alabama Electric Cooperative for $1,500 for equipment and curriculum for teaching students about electronics and programming.

The team applying for the grant included teachers Rachel Mims, Nicole Hoffman, Tammy Price and Stacey Pierce.

Mims, who teaches at Jemison Intermediate School, said the equipment, Makey Makey STEM Classroom Invention Literacy Kits, would “help us integrate real-world, hands-on learning into our curriculum.”

Teacher Nicole Hoffman, who teaches at Jemison Elementary, Thorsby High and Verbena High schools, said the kits allow students to connect inanimate objects to a motherboard to “turn anything into anything.”

“Usually, you are connected to a computer or a tablet,” Hoffman said.

This allows the circuit to be programmed.

Students have to find a conductive material to use with the kit in order to complete the circuit and make the program run. There are a number of materials that can be used, even a special tape that is conductive.

She said one example is turning a banana into a piano.

“I am excited, because I want to see what their ideas are,” Hoffman said.

Teachers had been introduced to the kits during a workshop at the University of Montevallo.

“We already do (computer) coding, so this incorporates that coding aspect where they have to go into different preparedness programs, and they will code … what they want it to do,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said all the components to complete the circuit are connected with “alligator clips.”

The Makey Makey website also offers several resources for using the equipment.

“Technology which does everything for us has become so pervasive that our children are not learning life skills,” Mims said. “Makey Makeys enable us to teach electricity and circuitry as well as creativity, problem-solving and innovation.”

Hoffman said the versatility means the possibilities of what the students can create is endless.

“Gifted education focuses on creativity, innovation, problem solving skills and real-world problems,” Mims said.  “Makey Makeys meet all of these needs plus provide extensions to use with technology. Instead of just an app or game, though, these STEM Literacy Kits help students see how our technology works and create their own.”

While the projects will build on what students have already learned, it will also prepare students for engineering projects that they may be a part of in higher grades.

Enrichment classes are offered in third through sixth grades.

Price teaches at Clanton Intermediate and Clanton Middle schools. Pierce teaches at Maplesville High and Isabella High schools.