Students find fun in science, technology, math, engineering

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

GANADO, November 15, 2012

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(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Colby Kee, a fourth grader at Ganado Primary School, concentrates on which pillar to pull as he keeps from letting the structure from coming down on Nov. 8 during the school's Science Engineering Technology Mathematics Family Engineering Night in Ganado.

SECOND FROM TOP: A Ganado Primary School student laughs as the washers being stacked on cardboard paper comes crashing down on Nov. 8 in Ganado.

THIRD FROM TOP: Ganado Primary School 4th grader Isaac Bochinclonny, left, pushes a toy car down a ramp to watch the affects of how different shapes on a vehicle can affect resistance caused by wind on Nov. 8 during the Science Engineering Technology Mathematics Family Engineering Night.

F or decades, Navajo education officials have been trying to think of ways to get Navajo students interested in science.

But the solution, as officials at Ganado Elementary School have discovered this year, may be simply making the learning of science fun.

That worked for Isaac Bochinclonny, a fourth grader at the school. He's one of 24 students who are in the school's STEM Club.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math and that pretty much explains what students who belong to the club concentrate on.

"He loves it," said Yvonne Tanner, Isaac's mother, who said her son has expressed his excitement at being part of the club.

"He's always been interested in building things with Legos so you could say he was interested in science," she said.

Maybe, she said, his involvement in STEM will continue sparking his interest in science and may lead to a career in engineering or another form of science.

If so, that will make Navajo educators happy because up until now only a handful of Navajos have gotten that spark of interest in science and have gone on to become mathematicians, engineers or scientists.

Yvonne Haffey, who is a grants coordinator for the 21st Century and Save the Children program at the school, which provides after school activities for students who are in need of more tutoring to master their classes, said the STEM club partners with the Arizona Science Center, which is headquartered in Phoenix, to teach students the fundamentals of science.

Students in the club are encouraged to look at ordinary objects from a scientific perspective, whether it is dissecting a potato to examine its various layers to trying to determine how much weight a bridge can hold and why bridges are arched instead of straight.

The STEM program has especially pushed programs in schools with a large minority population in an effort to get more Native Americans and Hispanics interested in making a career in science.

"We are also trying to get girls interested as well," Haffey said, "since there are not a lot of girls looking at science as a career."

As part of the program, members of the STEM Club will be making a field trip on Thursday to Phoenix to visit the Arizona Science Center and observe first-hand what the center has to offer.

This is the first year that the STEM Club has been in existence and Haffey said it has definitely been a success.

As for Haffey's program, getting students interested in science has been a part of her the 21st Century's efforts to have students reach their maximum potential, even for those who are struggling in their classes.

That's why the after school program mixes learning and recreation.

"We have tutoring programs but we also have a number of physical activities," she said.

The 21st Century program is now in its second year of a five-year grant. The STEM Club has received a lot of praise from parents like Tanner for encouraging their children to look upon learning as something that can be fun and rewarding at the same time.

"I think it is a great program," said Tanner.

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