Fifth-grade teacher Michelle Phelan's Steam4kidz after-school program prepares students for science, technology, engineering, art and math-based careers.
By Kaitlin Sargent
Usually, staying late at school is a drag, but for some students at Cypress Elementary School, it can be the highlight of their day.
Michelle Phelan, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, introduced Steam4kidztech, a hands-on learning STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) club. It corresponds with the activities featured every day after school to challenge students from kindergarten to fifth grade. She said she realized the necessity to prepare students early on for the demand of the future workplace by engaging them in a makerspace environment.
Despite her initial expectations, Phelan has seen the club's popularity grow. Students flowed in and out of the classroom to say hi.
“It’s becoming the place everyone wants to be,” Phelan said.
Now on the second year of the program, Phelan has a variety of connections that help with the daily projects. Engineering projects are spearheaded by the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University's Society of Automotive Engineers Motorsport Club every Thursday. The current ERAU students assisting in the after-school program are James "Dillon" Robinson in mechanical engineering, Tony Lui in aerospace engineering and J.T. McGill in mechanical engineering.
One of the club's most recent project was to design, build, test and present a balloon-powered car made from completely recyclable materials. The students were given plastic wheels, a drinking straw, cardboard and a balloon for their materials. Each group had team roles of consulting engineer, project engineer, facilities engineer and test engineer.
The teams assembled their cars so that, when the balloon deflated, the car was pushed forward as straight or as powerful as they designed it. The students were judged on their cars on July 24. They had to answer questions regarding how their vehicle met the standards and what properties of their trial and error worked, and what did not.
Students in higher grades were also able to discuss concepts like force of motion, velocity, aerodynamics and the mechanics of their car components. They wrapped up their session by testing their prototype before final presentations the next day.
The students physically jumped for joy for their pickle party on Friday, when they chow down on their homemade pickles along with their movie and math day.
Math days on Fridays traditionally involve games, and Phelan says the students' favorites are Uno and checkers. Other activities the students enjoyed include circuits, coding, robotics, drones, Legos and painting. The class even tends to their own garden they snack from and use to feed their class pets — a rabbit, guinea pig and rat.
Student Luna Brooke said she liked that they have a variety of experiences at STEAM, and that she enjoyed racing her car with Lui from Embry Riddle. Another student, Max Engel, said he loved seeing how fair his car could go.
Student Ayla Ghaffarian said she “learned that girls can build cars too.”
Embry Riddle’s SAE Motorsport Club visits every week as a part of their participation in the club. Other members helping with this project have included Madison Lily and Julio Magallon, supported by their Team Lead Chandler Gass, Engineering Lead Maxwell Kline, and Club Advisor Davis Spitzer.
McGill said it “gets them involved and brings them fundamental building blocks.”