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Students Become Engineers in New STEM Center

The notes ring out brightly, like from a well-made piano. But this instrument, created by students at Fort Worthington Elementary School, has no ordinary set of black and white keys. It has bananas! 

Using Makey Makeys, students at Fort Worthington made musical circuits through this tasty yellow (and conductive!) fruit. And it’s only the beginning of the hands-on, STEM-based learning to come in the brand new STEM Center. 

Donated through the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and unveiled in a ceremony last month, the state-of-the-art STEM Center provides the 740+ students at Fort Worthington with $30,000 worth of high-tech STEM gear to support their learning. Going forward, students and educators at Fort Worthington will have access to a range of the latest STEM materials, including brand new computers, snap circuits to build electronic connections, programmable mini robots, a 3D printer, and STEAM kits to build motors, levers and more. 

The materials and the engaging activities support key curriculum in STEM topics such as circuitry, electronics, engineering, programming and computational thinking. Students are completing challenges, building contraptions, and experimenting with electronics and computers - all while having fun and learning. The result: excited learners eager to ask questions, solve problems, and grow. 

For example, students in the STEM Center may be presented with a road or pathway heading to a finish line, with a programmable robot (called a Bee-Bot) at the starting line. The challenge: program the Bee-Bot to follow the path and reach the finish in as few turns as possible. In another session, students might test out whether everyday objects can conduct electricity, making circuits out of fruits, liquids and more. 

According to Dawn Shirey, Director of 21st Century Learning which organized the installation of the STEM Center, this kind of learning can change the classroom dynamic. “These experiences open up a whole new level of possibility for a student,” said Shirey. “Students are given challenges to solve and told to go ahead and figure it out with a partner or on their own. These open-ended learning experiences bring about such joy while boosting self esteem and building skills in critical thinking, perseverance and flexibility.” 

Educators and students are able to bring classes to the STEM Center, or take materials from the STEM Center to their classrooms. The flexibility allows for teachers and students to engage with this learning in whatever way works best for them. 
And they have support as they do it. Educators at Fort Worthington underwent intensive training on how to use the materials in the STEM Center in hands-on ways that align with curricula and support learning. 
Giving students access to these kinds of engaging technologies and experiences has the potential to change the trajectory of their lives. Says Shirey, “We don't know who in a classroom will be programming the next airplane or self-driving car, or who will be inventing the next piece of technology that pushes society forward. And the students don't know yet either! They need to be exposed to those experiences to unlock passions and expand ideas. STEM Centers help do that.” 

STEM Centers like Fort Worthington’s enhance the district's growing work to provide students and schools with STEM materials and experiences every year. Fort Worthington is the fourth school to benefit from a new STEM Center thanks to City Schools’ amazing partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. Others include Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School, Robert Coleman Elementary/Middle School, and Matthew A. Henson Elementary School. 

To learn more about the STEM Centers, visit

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