Students from Sara Nelson's Spring 2019 class pose with newly developed Checkout STEM Kit. File photo.

Iowa State University students making STEM learning enjoyable for children of all ages

Iowa State University students taking The Teaching of Science (EDUC 449), or Teaching Science in the Primary Grades (EDUC 439), with Sara Nelson, extension program specialist in the school of education, are developing eight Checkout STEM kits. These kits provide children and their families with hands-on learning experiences about topics within the technology, engineering, mathematics and literacy fields.  

Constance Beecher and Sara Nelson

The first round of six kits was released at the Ames Public Library during the summer of 2018. Sara Nelson and Constance Beecher, assistant professor and family literacy extension state specialist, work together, crafting a framework for students to further develop and turn into finished projects.

“What we’re trying to do is find a way for students to apply their learning to something that is real,” said Nelson. “We try to do this in a way that applies the research we do at Iowa State and serves the people of Iowa.” 

While creating activity outlines for the kits, students are encouraged to think about the overall design and engineering required to produce the final product. The students work as a team, combining ideas while encouraging innovation. 

Cassidy Swiggum

Cassidy Swiggum, a senior in early childhood education, focused her Honors project on the kits. When deciding on her project topic she focused on her passion for literacy.

“I want my future students to like to read. I also want to incorporate my major into the honors program, making our presence within the program stronger,” said Swiggum. 

Swiggum is working with Nelson, and evaluating already-made kits to determine what is and isn’t working. She then will craft her own kit and observe a family’s interaction with it. From that feedback she will make further refinements. 

“I’ve never had the chance to do a lesson and then redo it," Swiggum said.  This opportunity allows me to take data and change it. When you develop something you don’t always get to see it being interacted with.” 

Students like Swiggum who are involved in facets of the project, are gaining a plethora of skills while working on the kits, as they learn to take concepts from class and apply them to a large-scale project for interactive use by the public. 

Swiggum is ecstatic to begin her research and observe how her work aids children and their families. 

“No matter your economic status, through these kits all children are given the opportunity to learn and grow,” Swiggum said. “We’re fostering STEM experiences early on.” 

“The students know why they’re doing what they’re doing," Nelson said.