Science and technical fields excite Ilwaco students

By Katheryn Houghton

khoughton@chinookobserver.com

Olina Dalton-Gilbertson checked the controls of her robot again — it still pulled left.

“I don’t think it’s a coding issue,” the 10-year-old said to her team as they watched their class project spin in circles. “I think we’ve got a loose wire.”

Dalton-Gilbertson is a part of Hilltop School’s first class focused on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. Two out of three of the school’s 5th and 6th grade classrooms started to revolve around STEM in August.

STEM teacher Charlie Huddleston said with the program’s popularity during its first year, he expects it to continue to grow.

The class is shaped around kids who lean toward science and find understanding by taking something apart and putting it back together.

“I take more of a step back in this class,” Huddleston said. “It’s group oriented, so I lay out parameters and watch the kids as they problem solve.”

Huddleston said his classroom was largely funded by a $7,000 grant from the Ocean Beach Education Foundation. Huddleston said the program, which was originally going to be a shared 5th and 6th grade class, expanded because of high demand.

Students are selected to join STEM because of a teacher recommendation or parent request. Students could also be placed in the classroom after taking a survey that shows their style of learning would excel in the STEM environment.

“I don’t believe one way works better,” Huddleston said, talking about the differences between a STEM and traditional classroom. “I think it’s just awesome our kids have different options for how they absorb information.”

Huddleston said the whole idea of STEM can be nebulous. Projects vary based on the student’s interest and national demand.

“If you look around the country, you really see a push for projects like robots — which I think are the way of technology’s future — to get into classrooms.”

Huddleston said tech companies are looking to hire but they don’t have qualified candidates to fill their positions.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 60 percent of U.S. employers are having difficulty finding qualified workers to slide into their vacancies. In the current overall employment market, unemployed people outnumber job postings 3.6 to one. In the STEM occupations, job postings outnumbered unemployed people by 1.9 to one, according to Change the Equation, a national STEM advocacy group.

“There’s this need for a nerd like me, people who love science. And its being recognized in a big way in recent years,” Huddleston said.

Avary Murry, 10, said building robots was just the class’ most recent project. They’ve constructed miniature windmills, solar-powered cars, a water turbine and even the classic solar system model.

Murry said the class has show her how much she likes work with classmates to search for answers.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a marine mammalogist,” Murry said, adding that she likes the mystery of what’s in the ocean.

Other students said they wanted to become technological engineers, coders, programmers or scientists. One student said he would play basketball for a few years then work for NASA. Another student said she would be a baker, a journalist and a neurologist.

Huddleston said he didn’t expect the school would find a tangible way to determine STEM’s success for years.

“The long test is to see where these kids end up,” he said. “Even if not in a STEM career, just to see what they do with their life.”

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