WMS fifth-graders participate in all-day STEM activity

WORTHINGTON -- On Monday, a Worthington fifth-grader cautiously unwrapped a combination of crumpled newspapers, paper shreddings and tissue paper. He was cautiously optimistic to find an egg inside, still intact, after it had been dropped from se...

Worthington Middle School fifth-graders Angel Lopez (from left), Alex Lopez, Ryker Rehborg, and Tristan Henderson deliberate the combination of items necessary to protect an egg from cracking upon being dropped from a ladder. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - On Monday, a Worthington fifth-grader cautiously unwrapped a combination of crumpled newspapers, paper shreddings and tissue paper.

He was cautiously optimistic to find an egg inside, still intact, after it had been dropped from several feet.

He beamed when he had pushed all the filling aside and didn’t find any yoke, successfully completing the one goal he and his approximately 250 classmates shared Monday. Applying  STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) principles, the entire fifth-grade class worked with their peers through a series of steps in an attempt to protect an egg.

“This (activity) combined several curriculum into one day,” said fifth-grade teacher Tori Baumgartner of the project that she said offered students real-world application of concepts they’ve spent weeks studying.

Students started their day with an introduction to STEM, and Baumgartner said many of them had never previously heard the acronym.


After the introduction, students went shopping. With the fake $100 allowance per team, students perused a makeshift shop in the English Learner classroom to select from a variety of supplies.

“They had to decide which materials were worth what amount of money,” Baumgartner said.

One group blanketed a plastic cup with newspaper and paper shredding, while another secured a cloud of cotton balls around the egg and yet another attached balloons with pipe cleaners to a cup in an attempt to slow the egg down.

Many of the projects did not reap the outcome the fifth-graders had hoped, but that played well into what Baumgartner called a “huge part” of the overall project - modification.

That learning process wasn’t messy at first, as a plastic Easter egg weighted down with change allowed students the opportunity to infer whether or not a egg would likely have cracked.

As a response to the trial run, one group of girls modified their design by creating a makeshift parachute out of light tissue paper. Another attached a long string to the cup, effectively eliminating lots of space between the cup and the ground.

Several “that’s cheating!” claims could be heard from the crowd of fifth-graders.

“No, that’s thinking outside the box,” members of the group that had designed the project responded back.


That ‘thinking outside the box’ is exactly what the all-day STEM day was about, as students were given the freedom to work through the problem with very minimal assistance from their teachers.

While Monday’s activity was the first time the project had been implemented gradewide, Baumgartner said work to create the comprehensive activity effective began last year as a pilot program, and was developed by fifth-grade teacher Stacy Wiebersch and her fifth-grade team.

Wiebersch said the activity allows students to use creativity and ingenuity to find a solution to a presented problem.

The project required students to work through the design process step by step, which included research, design, collaboration, tests, modifications and reflection.

“Any chance we take as teachers to build those critical thinking skills in our students is necessary and worth the extra effort spent on planning a day like (Monday),” Wiebersch said.

STEM concepts are continuing to become more popular in classrooms as a response to the job market.

According to a comprehensive study by the Pew Research Center, careers in STEM are not only continuously on the rise, but outpace overall job growth from the at least the last 25 years.

According to PEW, in 2016, STEM occupations comprised 13 percent of the total U.S. workforce - a career sector that has experienced a 79 percent growth since 1990.


Encouraged by the outcome of Monday’s activity, Baumgartner said the goal is for fifth-grade teachers to develop a comprehensive STEM project once every quarter. In order to do so, Baumgartner said, teachers have applied for grant funding to offset the cost of the additional necessary supplies to develop future projects.


Worthington Middle School fifth-grade teacher Hollie Hibma prepares to drop a group of students' project that they created with the goal of keeping the egg inside intact. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

What To Read Next
The North Dakota Highway Patrol investigated the Wednesday, Jan. 25, crash.
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.
“We see that when things happen in the coastal areas, a few years later, they start trending toward the Midwest,” said Rep. Ben Krohmer, serving his first term in the House.
“This is sensationalism at its finest, and it does not deserve to be heard in our state capitol,” Rep. Erin Healy, a Democrat and one of 10 votes against the bill in the 70-person chamber, said.