PreK Students in Arizona Use Building To Explore STEM

“Are we building today?” For 29 PreK students in Chandler, Arizona, Fridays were their chance to transform their classroom into an active construction zone.

One-by-one, they put on their safety helmets as they got ready to learn about buildings and engineering as part of the hands-on We Explore Building AWIM PreK STEM Exploration.

Straws and connectors quickly became building designs inspired by the Beijing National Olympic Stadium and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Big red building blocks became the foundation for tall towers. Blankets were used to make classroom forts. All the while, learning about different materials used to make buildings including their own school.

When teachers Carolyn McCleary and Maureen Alger shared construction pictures of the Strong Foundations Academy, the students started engaging with everything around them. They knocked on the walls, they knocked on the doors, and they even knocked on the floor trying to determine what materials were used and why. Soon they started applying what they were learning to their own builds—how solid wood blocks are different from waffle or foam blocks, the importance of a solid foundation, and which materials work best for each purpose.

Throughout the STEM exploration, students discovered what was possible as they looked at buildings and building materials in new and different ways. Buildings aren’t always just straight up and down. By exploring different structures from around the world, they were able to see there are many different ways to build. Instead of just using their building blocks to make a house or a castle, now they were more creative in their pretend play–making stadiums, zoos, and water parks. Working with their instructional aide, each week they would focus on making a plan and learn how to work together as they voted on the structure they wanted to build.

Their excitement was immediately obvious. Parents loved seeing pictures of their kids having fun at school and their creations. Students came home beaming every Friday, anxious to talk about what they learned and what they built. They started using higher-level words that weren’t in their vocabulary before the STEM exploration.

“Our students were so engaged and so excited, they couldn’t wait until Friday. They started remembering information from one lesson to another and even made the connection between foundations and Strong Foundations Academy,” said Carolyn McCleary. “The experience crossed all interests and genders. Our young learners realized they could build whatever they want. Who gets to build a blanket fort in PreK?” she added.

Although they weren’t able to incorporate outside volunteers due to the pandemic, in the future Strong Foundations Academy hopes to invite local construction companies and engineers into the classroom—a key part of AWIM STEM explorations–to expose their students to new experiences and open their minds to all of the opportunities that are possible through STEM education.

Help make these learning experiences accessible for the youngest learners to ignite curiosity in STEM with a gift to the SAE Foundation.

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