Armed with a plastic cup, straws and other equipment, Nicholas Burke was putting the finishing touches on a device he called a water dripper.

The Willard Grade Center fifth-grader said his invention would make it possible for people to get a drink of water without leaving their seat.

“Instead of having to get up and get your water, you can use the water dripper to fill up a cup,” he said.

Nicholas and three other fifth-grade boys were seated around a table at Willard’s new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab, using everyday items to create their inventions. Other students were scattered throughout the lab, chatting as they built products including a snack maker, a catapult, a food protector and a solar-powered underground water sprinkler.

Becoming

problem-solvers

Representatives from Ada City Schools and the DART Foundation joined the students Wednesday at a kickoff event for Willard’s STEM lab, which was funded by part of the proceeds from a DART Foundation grant.

Earlier this year, the foundation awarded the Ada school district a $50,000 grant to develop STEM labs — also known as iLabs — at its four elementary schools. The labs are designed to provide STEM opportunities for students and allow them to develop their thinking, collaborative and creative skills.

Rhonda Hibbard of East Central University’s Institute for Math and Science Education greeted the students as they entered the STEM lab Wednesday morning. After a brief introduction, she told the students that the lab would help them learn skills that would be useful when they grew up.

“Guess what you do when you’re good at science, technology, engineering and math?” HIbbard said. “You are really, really, really good problem-solvers, and that’s what we want you to be.”

As officials with the DART Foundation and the school district watched, Hibbard walked the students through a short lesson about the steps required to create a new product. And after showing the students a short video about STEM education, Hibbard turned them loose to begin working on their inventions.

The students each received a plastic tub — dubbed a “STEM bin” — filled with various items that they could use to create their products. The hum of conversation filled the room as the students opened their bins and started work.

Dart Foundation representative Joenita Lehman, who serves as the human resources manager for Dart Corp. in Ada, watched the students as they worked on their products. She said she enjoyed seeing the students develop their STEM-related skills.

“There’s so much of what they’re doing as far as problem-solving and strategic thinking — those skills develop over time,” Lehman said. “And once you come to being an adult, it’s very important to have that skill set. So it’s really amazing to see them just molding their little minds and growing in that skill set.”

‘The most fun day’

Fifth-grader Gabe Woolly sat at a table with three other boys, including Nicholas Burke, as they put their inventions together. Gabe was using popsicle sticks and other items to build a combined drum and solar cooker.

Gabe said he enjoyed the lesson because it gave him a chance to create something and learn at the same time.

“This is the most fun day I’ve ever had,” he said.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.