Middle school students learn human anatomy in STEM club

Caption! (Alexis Macklin/DD)
Students at ASU Preparatory Academy work on project posters Saturday in preparation for their STEM in the Middle open house. The spring program session focused on human anatomy. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program formally known as STEM in the Middle held its final spring meeting at ASU Preparatory Academy Saturday as the students prepared posters on the human anatomy for an open house.

“The goals of the programs are to provide opportunities to middle grade students to experience the excitement of solving problems that have opportunities to apply math and science concepts to skills that they learn in school,” STEM director Carole Greenes said.

STEM is a program that the PRIME Center, a research unit at ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, created for students in grades 5-8. The program has been held at ASU Preparatory Academy since 2011 and is funded by the Helios Education Foundation.

The sessions are held for seven weeks in the spring and fall. Each session offers students different explorations, and this session focused on the human anatomy.

“Each week the students study different human systems and do experiments,” STEM project director Mary Cavanagh said.

During Saturday’s session, students put together their own diagrams and posters for their open house next Saturday.

Fifth grader Ashley Vanding said she likes the STEM program because “most of the things we do we don’t get to do in class.”

Vanding said she started in the program after her older sister had participated in it and has been in it for two years. She wants to be a veterinarian when she’s older, and said she was excited to do dissection this session. Vanding and her group dissected an eyeball to better understand its inner workings.

The next group was busy discovering the inside of a brain.

“During the dissection we got to work with a brain and break it apart and scoop around,” sixth grader Jalen Jones said.

Jones said he has been in STEM for three sessions and wants to come back next year.

One of the program’s volunteer high school mentors, Eli Chambers, assisted Jones’ group. Chambers started with the program when it had its first session on physics.

“I’ve seen it grow from disillusioned to concrete, and it has been cool,” Chambers said.

Chambers said his favorite part of being a mentor is seeing how motivated the students are to learn.

“It’s a breath of fresh air because the kids want to learn and sometimes the kids actually show us up,” Chambers said. “The mentors learn as well as students.”

Graduate student Rachel Rowe, one of the “village leaders” of the program, heads the group by teaching the students the different parts of the labs with the assistance of the mentors.

Rowe broke the students into groups based on the different systems of the body. She had them alternate between activities and presentations using twenty minute intervals.

“I usually line up objectives for each week and present the students with each system and then get them into an activity. I’ll make them tell me what they learned from it,” Rowe said.

The STEM program is not only for middle school students but for teachers looking to learn in-depth areas of their expertise, as well.

Science specialist for STEM in the Middle Nancy Foote, said she teaches the younger students the same way she teaches her students, by using the five Es: explore, engage, explain, evaluate and extend.

ASU Preparatory Academy fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher Kristi Larson said she would use the session’s material in an upcoming lesson, after they covered compounds, elements and mixtures using bolts, nuts and screws.

Contact the reporter at kyleigh.zmijewski@asu.edu