MURRAY, Ky. — In an effort to explore the impact exposure to STEM-related content has on children, Dr. Stephanie Hendrith, assistant professor of early childhood and elementary education at Murray State University, escorted a group of student volunteers to Murray Middle School for STEM Day.

Hendrith was named the Ashland, Inc. Endowed Professor in the College of Education and Human Services in January 2018. Among the endowment’s primary goals is the intention of encouraging recipients to participate in planning and developing programs that will afford teacher-education candidates experiences that demonstrate current best practices at both the University and public school levels.

STEM Day, which took place March 30, allowed fourth-grade students to interact with different activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics at four stations led by the Murray State volunteers. Volunteers interacted with nearly 130 elementary students over the course of the day.

The four stations consisted of sphero robots, marble runs, electric currents and balloon car engineering. Students practiced manipulating a robotic ball using a tablet that controlled the movement, speed and direction of the robotic ball, competing in a race to control the robot with the most accuracy. The marble run at station two then challenged students to engineer marble mazes, while students learned how electricity flows through currents at station three. At station four, students were taught Newton’s Law of Motion and were given supplies to build their own balloon-powered cars.

Hendrith said introducing kids to STEM fields at an early age could spark interest in a STEM-based career path later in students’ lives.

“Based on how excited the students were for STEM Day, I genuinely hope that some of them build upon that excitement and turn it into something greater,” Hendrith said. “I am hoping that the students were able to take away an appreciation for STEM-related fields and maybe be inspired to pursue more of those STEM careers in the future.”

The results of this event will yield a research initiative to discover if early exposure to STEM activities will increase an interest in young children to pursue STEM-related careers.

Cassidy Spencer, an elementary education major at Murray State and a STEM Day volunteer, said the day brought science, technology, engineering and mathematics to life for students.

“Any time a student can relate what they do in the classroom to a real-life, hands-on experience, learning is going to occur,” Spencer said. “The students absolutely loved all the activities and were sad they could only play for such a short time. That’s how students should feel about learning. It should be exhilarating and something that they view as play and discovery.”

Murray State volunteers from the elementary education program also gained experience interacting with elementary students by implementing the hands-on activities, teaching lessons and helping them to build, explore and create by approaching education in a new and innovative way.

“My favorite part was seeing the students so excited to participate and seeing our Murray State students eager to help out and teach,” Hendrith said.

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