Oak Ridge Elementary earns 2020 STEM Innovation Award
Sun This Week. Staff. December 30, 2019.

Oak Ridge Elementary School of Leadership, Environmental and Health Sciences in Eagan and a member of District 196, has been named the winner of the 2020 STEM Innovation Award.

Principal Cathy Kindem and STEM Specialist Tanner Walters applied for the award on behalf of the school.

Oak Ridge is in its fourth year as a magnet school focusing on developing new systems to increase academic success in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The school has accomplished that through developing innovative opportunities for students outside their traditional classroom. These opportunities include a STEM specialist course, additional before, during, and after school STEM classes, engineering nights, student STEM leaders, and their new “STEM to Go!” Kits.

“At Oak Ridge, we are eager to offer unique opportunities to support the reduction of racial and gender bias in STEM. As a leadership magnet school, we want to cultivate the talent in all learners,” Kindem and Walters wrote in their application. “ ‘STEM to GO!’ Kits ensure access to STEM equipment and experiences to build confidence and for all to have the opportunity to become science and technology leaders.”

Walters exposes students to a wide variety of STEM-focused activities that integrate their current unit of study from their classroom with the magnet theme. There are many examples of STEM themed projects specific to grade levels.

Fifth-grade students learn about ecosystems through invasive buckthorn species found on campus and help develop plans to remove them.

They also learn to code EV3 robots in STEM class to sort recyclable and non-recyclable waste on a course created in art class.

Third-graders use circuitry to design their own star constellations to learn about astronomy, and fourth grade learns about hydrology through testing pond water on campus and developing ways to purify it.

The STEM Innovation Award is presented in partnership between the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA) and the Science Museum of Minnesota. The award gives principals the opportunity to share innovative programs and/or projects in their schools. An “innovation database,” created from entries for the award, is made available to MESPA members, helping schools across the state replicate their colleagues’ successes.

Oak Ridge will be recognized at the MESPA Institute awards celebration – The MESPYs – in Bloomington on Feb. 6, 2020.

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