Women’s History Month Hightlight

Vera Vander Kooy Bringing STEM to Indy’s Youth

March is Women’s History Month.  During this month it is important to not only reflect upon women who have made notable contributions nationally, but it is also important to get to know women who are making a difference in our own communities.  A woman making a difference in Indiana is educator Vera Vander Kooy.  She is the founder and director of the non-profit organization The STEM Connection.

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The STEM Connect Reflection

 DiscoverWorks Reflection

Through the DiscoverWorks program I had the amazing opportunity to shadow at the STEM Connection in Indianapolis. The STEM Connection is an outreach program designed to engage children with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) topics at an early age. The program caters to students from K-6, with mentoring opportunities for older students. There are two main branches that the STEM Connection focuses on: after-school challenge clubs and events hosted at Moore Road Farm just outside of Indianapolis. At challenge club, kids are given tasks to perform, such as building a tower, while following general STEM techniques, such as the Engineering Design Process. The facilitator frequently asks questions to keep the students engaged and to help them make connections between what they are doing with their hands and what they are learning. In addition, a wide variety of events are hosted at Moore Road Farm. These range from summer camps to field trips to travelling STEM experiences. The farm boasts a spectrum of ecosystems which children can explore, including fields of crops and a garden. Trails crisscross the bordering tree line of the farm, providing a scenic environment for learning.

While I was at the STEM Connection I had the opportunity to walk some of these trails, exploring the different ecosystems, learning about the native animals, and discussing the scope of the program with the executive director, Vera VanderKooy. As we walked, she outlined the broad goals of the STEM Connection in the present and the overarching goals for the future. I was also able to attend a staff meeting, where Vera and her co-workers discussed some prospective opportunities to expand the STEM Connection’s selection of services and ability to tailor their curriculum to specific needs. Following this, I joined a facilitator at a challenge club at a local school. Watching this on-the-ground interaction between the facilitator and students allowed me to see the benefits asking STEM-type questions can have in encouraging students to think independently.

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From this experience I have learned several things. One important thing I learned is that many grade-school children do not receive in-depth instruction in the sciences. At that level, the emphasis tends to be more on reading and literacy than on the sciences. While literacy is by no means a bad thing to focus on, exclusion of STEM subjects delays students from developing the critical thinking skills needed in higher education and beyond. Watching how the facilitator at challenge club slowed the students down by asking them questions and making them really think about the process they were completing was extremely revealing. As Vera said previously, STEM will be a part of many future jobs and it is therefore crucial to prepare students. Another aspect that became clearer through my time at the STEM Connection was the importance of positive role models for minority and female students. Most STEM fields are populated predominantly by white males. While many young girls and minority students have the capabilities to perform well in STEM fields, without role models they may not realize such a possibility is open to them. As a female in a STEM field, I find it encouraging that the STEM Connection is working to balance out the statistics across the spectrum of the sciences, introducing students to career paths they may not have considered previously.

Seeing the active role the STEM Connection is taking in engaging students with the natural world was heartening, especially in an era that does not seem to value the environment. The intentionality with which the STEM Connection is approaching challenges such as the disproportionate gender ratio and deficiency in science teaching at a young age was rigorous thorough. It was a privilege to be a part of watching students practice critical thinking skills through the challenge club activities and seeing how the STEM Connection as a whole is preparing to meet future challenges.

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Exploring the Outdoors

20 Ways to Explore the Forest Using Your 5 Senses

I can’t think of a place I would rather be than the forest. I think one of the best ways to enjoy and explore the forest is hiking. I have two little ones who are generally with me when I am hiking, so I am always looking for ways to keep things interesting and fun for them. One of the best ways I have found to entertain kids while hiking it help them learn how to explore the world around them, and the part is you don’t need any extra equipment.

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Insect Pollination


Pollinators: Why they’re important and how schools can helpIf you’ve enjoyed a cup of coffee in the morning, a slice of watermelon on a hot summer day, or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, you’ve benefited from pollinators. In fact, one out of every three foods you eat needs the help of pollinators.

Pollinators are animals that carry pollen from one plant to another, helping them make fruit or seeds. Without these animals, many types of plants wouldn’t be able to reproduce.

Unfortunately, pollinators face many threats such as increased pesticide use, loss of habitat, decreased plant diversity, and climate change. You have likely heard about the mysterious decline of honeybees. But bees aren’t the only ones in danger – many other pollinators such as butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds are also in danger of extinction.

With so much at stake, it’s critical we teach students about this important part of our ecosystem. Students of all ages can put their knowledge into practice by participating in building a pollinator habitat. While this is no small undertaking, it is the most direct way schools can take action to support pollinators.

Schools and after-school programs around the country have engaged students in taking steps to support pollinator habitats. Check out the stories below to get inspired.

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New Science Lab for Kids

At Powhatan, new science lab lets students feel like scientists

BOYCE — Huddled around a beaker filled with hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, yeast and food coloring, Powhatan School fifth-graders Carter Bessette, Cal Beckett and Jag Fitzsimmons-Call watched excitedly as their concoction bubbled and frothed on a lab table in the school’s new lower school science room.

“It looks like ice cream!” exclaimed Cal as he dipped his finger into the foam.”

About half of the school’s nearly 250 students are benefiting from the new science room, which opened this fall to serve the school’s first- through fifth-graders.

“Having this lab is a lot more engaging for the kids because they feel like scientists,” director of development Amy Sluss said. “They can get messy.”

Prior to last year, lower school students had science in their home classrooms, Sluss said. Last year, the school began using what Sluss called a “makeshift lab space,” and over the summer it was gutted and renovated.


Technology and Learning

Personalized Learning Hinges on Strong Tech Backbone

by Heather B. Hayes, EdTech

In a lot of ways, combining technology with curricula is like learning about fractions. Together, the two disciplines create a whole. But in schools nationwide, instructional and technology teams are working in tandem to ensure that this whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts, so that teachers in the classroom can effectively provide individualized learning to their students.

For the technology side of the equation, it’s about “making sure the infrastructure can support any creative possibilities for instruction,” says Terance Proctor, director of technology at Arlington Public Schools (APS) in Virginia.

On the instructional side, it’s about personalizing all aspects of learning with agility, says Tara Nattrass, assistant superintendent for instruction at APS. This academic model relies on each student’s own voice and choices so that teachers can better address the learner’s distinct needs while also setting goals and tracking progress, she explains. Curriculum planners also take into account various instructional approaches, academic support strategies and learning experiences, Nattrass adds.

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Getting Kids Interested in STEM

How to Get Your Kids Interested in STEM (Without Forcing
It on Them)

Hopefully your kids are getting a great education in science, technology, engineering, and math at school, but chances are those classes aren’t enough to instill a lifelong interest in these fields for most kids. As parents, however, there are a lot of easy ways we foster a greater love of learning and exploration in STEM subjects in our children.

STEM Doesn’t Have to Be a Love It
or Leave It Subject

I recently asked a group of Girl Scouts what they thought about STEM subjects: Did they enjoy them? Did they think they are good at them? I heard a resounding no from the majority in the room. And yet when we did some activities (a real-life Move the Turtle game to mimic programming, for example), each one of them was involved and, yes, interested. They enjoyed the activities when they weren’t presented as “learning about technology” or having to learn science facts because there’s a test on Friday.


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How early can we introduce STEM education?

Seeds of STEM’ aims to provide preschoolers with the foundation for STEM careers and lifelong learning

Key points:

  • Researchers are developing a STEM curriculum intended for preschool students
  • Though evidence suggests early STEM exposure has benefits, little STEM instruction occurs in preschool classrooms
  • A grant enables six clusters of STEM lessons to be introduced to preschool children through play and other instructional methods

Although research suggests that students as young as preschool age would benefit from STEM education, experts point to a gap between what the research says and how much STEM-focused curriculum actually exists in preschools.

In an effort to address the national need to guide more students to STEM careers, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers are developing curriculum which introduces STEM principles during the formative preschool years.

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STEM and Afterschool Programs

6 Benefits of Afterschool Programs

A good afterschool program can turn the aimless hours after school into productive learning time. That’s a big benefit for kids with learning and attention issues. Here are six things a high-quality afterschool program can do for kids.

1. Create a sense of belonging.

If the afterschool program isn’t run by the school district or a facility nearby, children can get to know different kids than those they see at school. That means they don’t have to deal with the same cliques and social issues. If it is run at your child’s school or nearby, the program can give your child a chance to connect with familiar kids in a different environment.

There’s generally more adult supervision than on the school playground, too. As a result, kids with learning or attention issues are more likely to be included and feel part of the group.

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2018 Awards

-SYPF Grant recipient 2016, 2017, 2018

-River-Friendly Farmer Award from the local Soil and Water Conservation District. This award recognizes farmers who, through good protection management practices, kelp keep Indiana’s rivers, lakes and streams clean.

-2018 McKinney Family Foundation Scholarship award recipient to attend Fundraising and Advocacy for Environmental Nonprofits offered by The Fund Raising School

IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

2017 Awards

-Joe Wright Recognition of Excellence Award by the Environmental Educators Association of Indiana

-Hoosier Chapter Soil And Water Conservation Society’s Education and Communications award for 2017!

-SYPF grant recipient 2016, 2017

-Intern, Madeline Anderson – 2017 Excellence in Summer Service Education Award Recipient


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