Introducing Students to STEM

Technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s our cell phones, computers, or items around the house, we can take for granted the level of sophistication of the technology we use just to get through the day.

For the youngest students in the Granville Central School District, advanced technology is all they know. That’s why teachers at Mary J. Tanner Elementary School are always looking for new ways to introduce their students to STEM programs to see if they can generate curiosity into the science behind the gadget.

Krista Cotich is the school’s library literacy specialist. She’s been in education for 24 years, and she has made it her mission to find creative ways to bring unique experiences into the classroom.

“My goal is to create experiences and opportunities that engage with my students in unique ways,” said Mrs. Cotich. “I love that students at Mary J. Tanner get a chance to explore and create without needing to follow a rigid set of instructions. They get to build something on their own, and we’ll come together as a group to see how different ideas can lead to the same outcome.”

Mrs. Cotich’s students take on a new project once a month, and she believes in following a three-step model: discussion, execution, and evaluation. Each class begins the project with a chance to discuss the basics of the assignment, such as the materials involved, what the students are building towards, and ideas regarding how to complete the project. Then, students are empowered to create their own path towards completing the project.

“There are no set instructions or a step-by-step guide to each assignment,” said Mrs. Cotich. “I love seeing how each student tackles a problem. There is no right or wrong way to do everything, only a chance to experiment and see if something works the way they want it to work.”

After students put the finishing touches on their assignment for that month, the entire class comes together to evaluate their work. Mrs. Cotich believes having time to discuss what worked and what didn’t work for each student helps others understand their own successes and failures more clearly.

“It’s not about highlighting the students that were able to solve the problem or complete the project the fastest. It’s about understanding the process each student goes through, and trying to learn from others in unexpected ways.”

This year, Mary J. Tanner is partnering with BOCES to bring in educators to help students better understand the basic concepts of coding. Pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade students have already participated in a workshop where they used iPads to program robots to draw shapes and designs created by the students.

Meanwhile, second and third graders experimented with designing computerized snowflakes on Chromebooks through the iRobot software. It empowers students to design custom-made snowflakes, enter their designs into the program, and then have iRobot create the snowflake.

“I have two children in the Granville school system, and my son actually got to participate in creating the snowflakes when he was in the fourth grade. He was so excited after it was over that when he got home. Seeing that level of excitement, that’s what I hope to generate with my students when they take part in this.”

Another popular project in Mrs. Cotich’s class was her Lego project. Students were tasked with building a home, complete with a door and window, from scratch.

“For some students, it feels like they’re getting to play with part of their class time. What they don’t realize is that they’re learning basic principles of engineering. If one student walks away with a new interest or a new desire to learn more about what it takes to build or create something using STEM methods, then I feel like I’ve made a huge impact.”

Mrs. Cotich grew up in Whitehall, and went to college at SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Albany. The Capital Region has always been home, and she’s excited that she’s now part of a dedicated staff that is helping the next generation of Granville students find their passions through school work.

“I love this community, and I love these kids. I want to help my students find passion in what we do at Mary J. Tanner. I want them to have fun, but I also want them to learn more about themselves in the process.”