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Murray Journal

Viewmont students code, get sense of altered reality with Utah STEM in Motion visit

Jan 27, 2020 11:07AM ● By Julie Slama

Using hands-on coding blocks, Viewmont fourth-graders worked together to create a code that directed classmates to do jumping jacks or say something funny as an introduction to coding. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In a Viewmont Elementary fourth-grade classroom, two boys were working together, taking strips of colored plastic and placing them in an order on their desks.

To a passerby, it may look like nonsense, but the plastic strips were hands-on coding blocks, a simple introduction to coding.

“I can put these in a certain order, and I learn how to code, and I can make him do things,” Andrew Noel said about his classmate, Tucker Warner.

Tucker said it was all in fun as he took his turn learning to command Andrew to do the same.

The class was divided into small teams where they were introduced to the language, such as flow charts and algorithms, as well as the steps of coding as part of the Utah STEM Action Center in Motion outreach program that travels throughout the state to teach students at more than 70 schools annually.

“These kids are going to need to know coding when they’re older,” STEM Action Center in Motion Program Coordinator Molly Bock said. “There will be more jobs, jobs we don’t even know what will exist, that will need coding. There are a lot of opportunities in Utah for coding. This is just a fun way to get kids excited to code as they learn how to have each other do silly things or jumping jacks and push-ups, they’re still learning the basics.”

Fourth-grade teacher Kristen Snow appreciated the engaging teaching for her students.

“It’s way cool to have the opportunity to do this,” she said. “It’s a different way of learning; it’s hands on. A lot of kids may not be familiar with programs that are available, but this may give them something extra, something that may pique their interest in STEM learning.”

That was the goal of parent Teresa Koontz when she contacted the STEM Action Center to bring fun, hands-on activities to engross students in learning.

“I started coordinating our school science fair three years ago and each year, I try to add something new,” she said. “I thought this would be a good kick-off to get kids engaged and they can learn about STEM careers.”

The school science and engineering fair, which was held Jan. 14-15, has grown from 20 projects two years ago to more than 100 last year. 

Koontz picked a couple topics from the dozen offered to be introduced to students, with the help of Colleen Fisher, STEM in Motion program manager.

Fisher said the goal was to connect with students, bringing enthusiasm and awareness to the STEM field and careers, which supports the governor’s initiative for a STEM-competitive workforce.

“We want to spark an interest in STEM and introduce them to careers they may not have known about, from robotics and engineering to an ophthalmologist, nursing or EMT,” she said. “When we introduce these in elementary school, it’s more likely that it will spark an interest and they’ll pursue careers in the STEM field, where we have a shortage in the work force.”

Before Fisher introduced “Our Senses and the Brain” to sixth-grade students, she wanted to introduce STEM careers to students.

“When you ask students what they’d like to do for a future career, many of them say professional sports of some sort,” Fisher said. “But I want them to realize with sports as well as most any career, they’ll be using STEM.”

Sure enough, the first professions students told her were Major League Baseball and National Football League players. Students identified the need to know math to figure out stats and scores into those careers. Other careers included those in the medical field, acting, research and counseling, all which Fisher explained there were relationships with the brain.

There were activities for students to learn about the brain and senses such as wearing reverse goggles while trying to draw a flower and trying altered reality goggles when they played catch with a classmate.

Sixth-grader Grace Taeoalii said she thought catching a beanbag with the goggles wouldn’t be much different.

“I thought it would be easier, but everything shifted,” she said.

The same thing happened to her classmate Alex Beckstead.

“I thought I could do it, but everything wasn’t where I thought it would be,” he said.

Macy Spjute said once she missed catching, even picking it up wasn’t as easy as normal.

“It fell on the ground and it was hard to find because it wasn’t right where I thought it was,” she said.

Her classmate, Kaitlyn Stout, realized the fun activity also taught them something more than just altered reality.

“We needed to work together, to help each other to be able to do it,” she said.

Their teacher, Lindsey Armstrong, appreciated the activities.

“It opens their eyes to different way of learning as they think about other senses through engaging activities and taking problem-solving to a new level,” she said. “I love any time students can become excited and engaged in the classroom like this.”