The best shooters in basketball are sometimes said to be “lighting it up,” and the phrase was taken quite literally this week at Will Rogers Learning Community.
Using little more than cardboard and tape, fourth-graders Daniel Acosta, Jessica Padilla and Darragh Flanders built a scaled-down basketball hoop for a special science expo. And as fellow students took turns playing their game in the local elementary school’s crowded cafeteria Wednesday morning, balls that passed successfully through the cylinder pushed a switch below the base of the hoop that activated a small light bulb.
That aspect of the project reinforced lessons about electricity and circuits for the trio, who were among the dozens of students with arcade-style games that emphasized principles of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at the school’s annual indoor carnival.
“It really engages them in the learning,” said Laura Simon, the school’s STEM coordinator. “Everyone wants to be able to make their game and make it well. … It’s fun for the kids and makes them understand more about the world they’re living in.”
The event is among the numerous avenues through which educators are infusing curricula with science concepts and activities at Will Rogers, which fashions itself as a STEM-focused school. All students work on at least four engineering projects each year, and this week there was a campus-wide introduction to computer science and coding.
More than 70 percent of Will Rogers students were deemed proficient or advanced in science on standardized tests in 2012-13, slightly below the district figure that year (78 percent) but significantly higher than the state rate (59 percent). About two-thirds of Will Rogers students were found to be proficient or advanced in math on standardized exams in 2012-13, topping the district and state figures of 62 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
Simon said STEM makes particular sense at the elementary school level because the students have one teacher who can integrate the lessons across academic subjects.
“It’s natural for kids to do it at this age,” she said. “It’s just continuing what kids do and building on their natural curiosity rather than shifting away from it [in school] and then having to come back to it later. It’s continuing that and just adding some perspective along the way.”
The school’s carnival was inspired by “Caine’s Arcade,” a short documentary about a 9-year-old boy who built arcade games out of cardboard boxes and everyday objects.
When Will Rogers launched its rendition of the homemade arcade three years ago, all students were invited to participate. But the expo has since been incorporated into learning time for second- and fourth-grade students, Simon said.
Students in other grades came through the cafeteria in a series of sessions Wednesday, and students who were involved in making games took turns running their stations and roaming around the room to see what their peers had crafted. There were several different skee-ball games as well as a fortune-telling spinner, pinball, Plinko, air hockey and many other attractions.
A day earlier, engineers from toy company Hasbro visited campus and shared with students what it’s like to have jobs that involve scientific principles on a daily basis.
“The kids see that what they’re doing is like what people do in real life,” Simon said. “That was really powerful.”
After the arcade, project leaders were tasked with counting the color-coded tickets they collected and creating graphs to assess the popularity of their games by grade level. Students were also planning to write about their experiences, bringing English skills into an activity that already involved science, math and business lessons.
Asked what he learned about science, Flanders first looked across the buzzing cafeteria.
“It’s all around you,” he said.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.