Students get hands-on experience in mobile STEM lab

Getting children excited about science, technology, engineering and math can be a challenge for any teacher.
Feb 13, 2014

Getting children excited about science, technology, engineering and math can be a challenge for any teacher.

Yet some of the teachers at Walter J. Baird Middle School recently had a new tool to ignite their students’ interest, the STEMmobile.

The STEMmobile is a mobile learning laboratory that provides a unique, on-site educational experience for pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school children in 20 Tennessee counties, including Lebanon schools. The mobile classroom brings technology to the doorsteps of schools, and the students have access to state-of-the-art equipment to help them to learn about STEM topics in creative and hands-on ways.

“We are so excited our students have the opportunity to learn math and science in real-world hands-on lessons provided by the STEM grant; otherwise, we would have missed out on this wonderful opportunity,” said Walter J. Baird Middle School principal Pam Sampson.

Opportunities for after-school labs will be open to Lebanon schools the remainder of the week.

The STEMmobile is a one-of-a-kind product of the Oakley STEM Center and Tennessee Tech University as part of the Upper Cumberland Rural STEM Initiative, a grant project funded by Tennessee’s First to the Top program. UCRSI is part of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, where the mission is to enhance student participation and interest in STEM subjects.

The UCRSI project includes STEM platform schools in Putnam County and a hub school selected by each participating county or school district to become more focused on STEM learning. UCRSI also has a STEM Hub, the Oakley STEM Center at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. The UCRSI Hub represents a partnership between the 21 school districts, three post-secondary institutions and 11 STEM-related or innovative businesses and non-profit organizations committed to supporting STEM education.

UCRSI’s goal is to tackle the unique challenges of enhancing STEM education for younger learners in mostly rural areas, and to create innovative and collaborative solutions to these challenges. In this case, UCRSI decided the solution was to re-envision what a box could do.

Housed in a 53-foot tractor-trailer with self-contained power, the STEMmobile has its own heating and cooling system, a satellite uplink for Internet connectivity and workstations to accommodate about 24 students at a time. The classroom on wheels is stocked with equipment from the Oakley STEM Center and includes equipment and supplies for activities for each grade level.

The Oakley STEM Center also has a lending library of STEM instructional materials to partially equip the STEMmobile and classroom kits for STEM subjects are on board, ready to go. The trailer is moved from site to site by Averitt Express, Inc., which has sponsored a significant portion of the transportation costs for the school year.

The STEMmobile is designed to help students learn more about three core STEM themes particularly relevant to rural students: water, with a focus on its importance, usage and conservation; energy, which highlights how power is generated, ways to lower consumption, green energy and long-term energy needs; and my food, my body, my health, which helps students learn more about agriculture, health, nutrition and physical fitness.

Four middle school teachers from Lebanon schools – Chuck Graviss, Shannan Tittle, Judy Metcalf and Melissa Reynolds – were trained during the summer to use the learning studio at the Oakley STEM Center, so they are ready to make the most of the STEMmobile.

“My students all loved the opportunity to go in the STEM mobile lab,” said Tittle, a sixth-grade science teacher at Walter J. Baird. “They were actively engaged in the engineering design process as they built and tested their circuit prototypes. It was very rewarding for me to guide them through this hands-on, well-prepared lesson which directly correlates to our sixth-grade curriculum.”

“Every student at Walter J. Baird will be able to complete a standards-based lab in the STEMobile,” said Chuck Graviss, seventh-grade science teacher at Walter J. Baird.

Each grade level will complete the following labs:

• sixth-grade students create and test series and parallel circuits. 

• seventh-grade students complete a lab on simple machines. Students are involved in creating simple machines and changing their characteristics to learn about their mechanical advantage. 

• eighth-grade students create and use electromagnets.

The moving lab spends one week at each of the 20 schools it visits during the school year. Moving the unit less often lowers transportation costs and gives more students and teachers a chance to use the STEMmobile.

For more information about the STEMmobile, visit ucrsi.org or call the TTU Oakley STEM Center at 931-372-6573.

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