A student at the recent open house at Walnut Middle School in Grand Island, Nebraska dissecting owl pellets.
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By Cody White, Communications Assistant
GRAND ISLAND, NE – The mental
connections students make as part of a
STEM education can be transformative.
In the revolutionary environment of a
Modules lab, young people broaden their
understanding and appreciation of their world
and explore ways they might contribute to it.
For educators, parents, and community
members, the opportunity to witness students
learn can be just as enlightening.
On an evening in early March, Walnut
Middle School in Grand Island, Nebraska,
opened the doors of its
STEM lab to the public.
Visitors witnessed a lab
in progress; students
were at their Module
stations learning content
and conducting activities.
They were also more than
happy to field questions
about what they’d
learned and discuss their
experiences in the lab.
Seeing the students
in action at the open
house certainly made an
impression on guests,
but it also deeply
affected at least one person already
connected with the lab, eighth-grade
science teacher Renee Ekhoff.
“When I was in that lab watching
those students working at the open
house,” Ekhoff says, “it was one of the
most empowering things I’ve ever seen.
Our students stepped up. They were so
professional. They were amazing. They
were communicating with adults on a
level that I had not ever seen them at
before. That open house went far beyond
reaching out to the community. It really
empowered me as a teacher to go ‘Geez,
I had no idea what they were learning and
how these Modules were working.’”
Visitors to the lab included parents,
teachers, Chamber of Commerce members,
guests from the local community college,
and engineers from the CNH manufacturing
facility in Grand Island. The notion of a
hands-on, student-directed lab is intriguing,
but until you see one in person, it is hard to
truly understand what it has to offer.
“Once you have the lab up and running
for people to see it and to see how the
teachers and the students along with the
Modules all interact together, they really got
a better feel about the concept that we were
reaching for,” Ekhoff explained.
The lab at Walnut features science-strong
titles for both seventh- and eighth-grade
students. The school uses a mixed
approach, splitting students into two
groups that go back and forth between the
lab environment and a traditional classroom
environment. Two other schools in the
Grand Island Public School District, Barr
and Westridge Middle Schools, also have
Pitsco STEM labs for their students.
Ekhoff has become a believer in the
power of the STEM lab. Just as the school
brought the community into the lab, she
believes the lab can help bring the world
into the classroom for her students.
“These students are being exposed
to some things they may never have been
exposed to before. Running a science
lab, we do as much as we can, but now
we have so much more material to work
with, so many more options that we can
make available to those students to look
at different careers in technology and
engineering, things that they wouldn’t have