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New Jersey Students’ Excitement Skyrockets After Experiencing Pitsco STEM Boxes

Published November 1, 2021
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Additional STEM Box article[s]:

FLEMINGTON, NJ – Dr. Kari McGann was hopeful that Pitsco Education’s STEM Creator Packs would informally ease students back into their education grooves this past summer. But she didn’t expect the significant boost of interest and engagement that transpired.

“Creating excitement in STEM builds support for college and career opportunities in our students,” said McGann, superintendent of schools for Flemington-Raritan Regional School District in New Jersey. “Our educators have seen a great interest in STEM as a result of the Pitsco STEM kits.”

A survey of 55 students who used the take-home STEM Creator Packs as part of a summer middle school Project STEM Club showed that prior to the start of the program only 11 percent were “extremely excited.” At the camp’s conclusion, it was another story – 53 percent were “extremely excited.”

“The students were so excited to be back in person together,” said Math Supervisor Kristen Wolff. “It was helpful that the materials were prepackaged so we could be mindful of students having their own individual workspaces. Each student worked individually but was able to share and discuss ideas with their peers. The teachers were phenomenal at taking the individual builds and extending the learning that was involved.”

Pitsco’s STEM Creator Packs, designed for middle schoolers, include hands-on materials and curriculum for five project builds (catapults, balloon cars, truss bridges, inventions, and friction climbers) involving 15 challenges and activities. The packs are designed for use in any environment – classroom, camp, club, at home, and blended/hybrid.

A parent of one camp participant took the time to email program leaders. “We just wanted to say thank you for a great six days of STEM Club. Charlie arrived the first day hesitant about what he would be doing and came out saying, ‘When do I get to go again?’”

The summer camp was purchased through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency (ESSER) fund portion of the CARES Act. In addition, members of the HSMC (Hunterdon, Somerset, and Mercer Counties) STEM Ecosystem, of which McGann is a leader, worked together to build interest in students.

“A challenge in today’s education system is the inability of the United States education system to produce enough STEM-capable students,” McGann said. “A problem of practice residing within New Jersey school districts is the lack of support for programs that lead to a positive STEM identity, particularly in female students and students of color, and little to no connection between education and the real world.”

Those barriers are gradually being eliminated as opportunities to experience hands-on STEM activities at all grade levels increase.

“Students in our K-8 schools aren’t ready to enter the workforce yet, but building their excitement and interest in STEM will assist them with a positive STEM identity and hopefully keeps their interest for high school and beyond,” McGann said.

McGann hopes that middle school girls in particular become more engaged in STEM. In New Jersey, females are underrepresented in STEM fields, holding only 27 percent of STEM jobs in the state (NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Occupational Employment Statistics). “For our females, creating interest and excitement is very important,” said the superintendent, who has long carried the STEM torch for all students.

“Three years ago, one of my goals was to increase the actions we were taking to positively affect STEM identity,” McGann said. “Pitsco is helping us to accomplish this goal."

“She walked in, and he was at the workstation dissecting owl pellets. The lady looks at me and says, ‘That’s my kid who’s been kicked out of three schools. What’s he doing?’ Well, he’s dissecting owl pellets, he’s learning. She was like, ‘How did you get him to do it?’ We didn’t get him to do that. It’s a self-engaging program, and the teacher is just facilitating. It’s pretty cool to see that.”

– Jerry Lager, superintendent, Ki Charter, San Marcos, Texas

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