Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
The local Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program in the Macon County School System has been abuzz with activity of late.
Jennifer Love, STEM coordinator for Macon County Schools, shared some highlights.
Three STEM teams, representing South Macon Elementary and Macon Middle School, competed in the Smart Tank Competition, which is sponsored by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and STEM-E Grant through Western Region Education Service Alliance. To compete, these students had to create a product and business plan that they presented to some local “sharks.” The competition took place at Southwestern Community College in Jackson County and included categories for elementary, middle, and high school teams from a seven-county region.
Winners included Lance Parker and Anderson Terrell from Macon Middle School with their idea called Campfire Bowl; the Macon Middle Unslippables team that included Cole Brogden, Gradynn Carpenter, Noah Farias, Garrison Laird, and Jacob Modlin; and, the SculptiGals team that involved Penny Allen, Jennifer Huerta Garcia, Edgar Garcia, Brooklynn McMahan, and Hannah Tallent from South Macon. Each group created a product and presented it to judges on April 5.
Said Love, “The Unslippables came up with a product called ‘Sole Savers’ that customers attach to the bottom of their shoes to prevent them from slipping. The SculptiGals decided that pet owners needed a way to preserve their pets’ memories through sculptures called ‘SculptiPets.’”
“We have several schools participating in this program,” said Love. “And these programs are supported by Suminski Family Books, which donated $500 of their proceeds from their ‘Animal Stories’ book to the STEM program; plus there is funding from our local Walmart.”
During the SOAR programs, students learn how birds of prey play a vital role in the natural world. Students are visited by owls, turkey vultures, hawks, and kestrels. “The best part of the program is the students get to see the birds up close and experience the wind off their wings as they fly over their heads,” noted Love.
Wings to SOAR was presented at Cartoogechaye Elementary on April 4 and will take place at Iotla Elementary on April 26, Mountain View Elementary on April 28, and East Franklin Elementary on May 5.
Another program, called STEAM Career Exploration, was offered at Mountain View Intermediate School on April 7.
“The whole school was provided materials through the STEM program to participate in four activities related to local careers,” explained Love. “This past year, we were a recipient of a grant through the Appalachian Regional Council to develop career exploration opportunities. Due to the pandemic, we (grant partners) created videos instead of field trip experiences.”
Love shared that videos can be found at https://wresa.org/business-externships. Activities students participated in after watching the local business video included sun prints and chemical reaction painting, a project linked to The Bascom: Center for Visual Arts in Highlands; gardening in a glove, an activity integrating content from the Deal Farms video; and, ziplining, which tied into the Highlands Aerial Park video.
“These videos can now be accessed by any teacher in the region.,” said Love. “We appreciate our local businesses who participated in this program.”
April is also when all Macon County elementary schools are participating in hands-on science stations during the school day through the N.C. Science Festival.
“Kits were purchased through the STEM-E grant and include experiments in chemistry, physics, and engineering,” said Love.
Events for N.C. Science Festival are taking place all over the state. More information can be accessed by visiting www.ncsciencefestival.org.
The Macon Bots robotics competition was held on May 10 at the STEM space located at the Business Industrial Park Upcoming is the Biodiversity Day at South Macon Elementary. Biodiversity Day, scheduled for Thursday, May 19, is an event that includes stations about salamanders, bird banding, butterflies, and fish. This program involves local partners from Mainspring Conservation Trust, Highlands Biological Station, and Southern Appalachian Raptor Research.
“STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” said Love, “but in Macon County, we focus on ‘Strategies That Engage Minds.’”
Macon County Schools currently has four STEM educators (Macon Middle, Mountain View Intermediate, East Franklin Elementary, and Cartoogechaye Elementary) that work to connect the curriculum through hands-on experiences.
“Students engage in lessons on computer coding, engineering design process, and much more. These lessons give students a jump start into career exploration, finding their passion, and practicing skills in critical thinking and problem-solving. I couldn’t be more pleased and excited about the projects and experiences we are able to provide our students through our STEM program and our amazing STEM teachers,” said Love.
The STEM acronym was first introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation. Since then, STEM-focused curriculum has been extended to schools throughout the United States as well as to many other countries.
For more information about the Macon STEM program, visit https://stem.macon.k12.nc.us or the Facebook page Macon STEM.