Elementary media center revamped for STEM work

In the freshly redesigned space of the elementary school media center, groups of sixth-graders are hard at work cutting, taping, reading and assembling pieces of paper to construct submarines. Teacher Leah Peyton travels around the room, checking in with one group, stopping to help another, fielding questions from students who run up to her with questions.

The room buzzes with activity, and although most students are seated on backless stools, few of them are still. They reach across the tables, pointing to instruction sheets or sharing supplies; they circle around to see what others are working on; they laugh, shout and exclaim.

These are the members of the sixth-grade STEM club, which comes together after school for hands-on project-based learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“The point is to get them to collaborate, and to be very independent learners,” Peyton explained.

And the new media center space is designed to do just that.

Peyton said she worked with Hummel’s Office Plus “to create a space that’s very open, very versatile and very tech-friendly.” In an area where students are working at stools and tables, everything has wheels, so the workspace can be configured as needed.

Still to come are small screens that will attach to the tables so that students using iPads or other devices can share their work instantly with others at their table, or on a big screen that will hang on one wall. The renovation was part of a $10.4 million capital project that included a redesigned entryway and office area for enhanced security, driveway improvements, roofing repairs and redesigning of some instructional spaces. (Read more about the revamped high school media center: Capital project leads to modern classrooms for Herkimer students)

In the elementary space, “everything’s mobile and everything’s wireless,” Peyton said. “We don’t do much of anything with pencil and paper in here.”

Behind a new partial wall is a cafe-like space, with smaller tables, and a curving bench seat around the outside of the room where kids can lounge or sprawl.

One student lays on the bench, working to put together a small model car from one of several STEM kits purchased for students to use.

“The idea is, he’s going to work on it, and show a couple of other kids how to do it, and then they’ll show a couple more kids, and so on,” Peyton explained. “I don’t want to see people working alone, and it isn’t about me standing up there and showing them all how to do something.”

Peyton said that, in fact, the opposite has been happening more and more.

“They get so much joy out of showing me how to do something,” she said with a smile.

And all this isn’t just for students who choose to join the club — Peyton said every single one of the kids in school will have the chance to get hands-on with the library’s STEM kits.

“There are some kids who may not be shining stars in the classroom, but they get to come in here and really get into doing something different,” Peyton explained. “We want everyone to have that opportunity.”

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