STEM Success Stories from Lowe's Grove Middle School

At Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham, North Carolina, students in STEM-related apprenticeships are learning about the world in innovative ways. What better way to teach engineering, health, science, the environment - you name it - than in a hands-on, engaging way? Here are a few examples of how the Lowe’s Grove staff and volunteer Citizen Teachers from many of our partnerships are expanding the learning day with STEM: It’s one thing to learn about engineering straight out of a book, but our students are captivated in the Electrical Engineering apprenticeship as they see the textbook facts come to life. One of our partners, EMC Corporation, is teaching students through a hands-on approach about circuits, circuit boards, and their design and assembly. In one class, students found the room rearranged with a large cart which appeared to be made out of cardboard in the middle of two rows of desks. The cart had extended clear plastic tubes with small plastic wires emerging and blue electrical tape in different places. The students had no idea what to expect. Was something going to jump out of the box? Were they going to have to recreate it? Was it going to explode? As the Citizen Teacher explained transducers and motors most students were paying attention but several were fascinated by all of the possibilities for this mysterious box. Suddenly the box came to life with the whir of an electrical motor. The startled kids jumped in shock and awe, and hands shot up in the air to ask the Citizen Teacher how he did it. Leaning forward in their desks, the students were silent - completely engaged – and the Citizen Teacher goes on to explain how he used a remote and simple engineering to make the box spring to life; how the small plastic tubes coming out of the larger plastic tubes were LED light; and how light travels from the source down the tube so it becomes visible. The machine fascinated the students and simultaneously gave them a a real experience of the subject matter.

In the Robotics apprenticeship led by one of our national partners,  Fidelity Investments, student Brandon Holder demonstrates the power of the Citizen Schools program. Although he is known by his teachers to be a handful at times, Brandon thrives in our hands-on apprenticeships. During one of the Robotics lessons, he and his teammate were incredibly excited to program and test their robot. Completely immersed in the project, Brandon was able to stay focused on his work and, as a result, avoided the principal’s office.

Volunteers from the Environmental Protection Agency, another Citizen Schools partner, is teaching “Sustainability through Upcycling.” In this apprenticeship, students are learning how to see products in new ways and reuse them for other purposes. On the second day of the apprenticeship, students were asked to sort “trash” into recycling, composting or trash bins which caused one student to become distressed by what he was learning in the activity. The student realized the large amount of products that could have been repurposed but were instead being discarded on a daily basis. Disappointed, he declared, “People are so wasteful!” But he took that frustration and turned it into inspiration, determined to make some changes.

In the “Happy Lungs, Happy Living” apprenticeship, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is teaching students about the air they breathe and how it compares to the air they exhale. In the second week of the apprenticeship, they were engaged in several activities using phenol red, a liquid that changes colors to visually reflect the PH level of various substances. To further understand the subject of PH, students used phenol red to determine whether three substances were acidic, basic, or neutral. Each student donned safety goggles and gloves and received beakers of phenol red and three separate test tubes of soapy water, tap water, and a mystery substance. The students were then instructed to carefully pour the contents of the test tubes into different tubes of phenol red and observe the changes that occurred. As he cautiously in added soapy water to a vial of phenol red Jamal Midgette, a sixth-grade student, exclaimed, “I feel like such a scientist!”

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