Elizabeth Looten’s plan for the first day of school Wednesday was to get to know students at Helmwood Heights Elementary School and review what STEM stands for.

Looten is teaching a new science, technology, engineering and math-focused class at Helmwood Heights. The class is one of five special classes including physical education, music, art and library. She will use the Project Lead the Way curriculum with each grade level in addition to other activities.

The school recently received a $10,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund to go toward buying a 3-D printer, computers, robotics supplies and Project Lead the Way kits, Helm­wood Heights Principal Jessica Turner said.

Susan Ryan, the district’s workforce readiness coordinator, helped with the grant application, Turner said.

On the first day of school, Looten spoke about where she was from and her favorite foods, including ice cream.

The fourth-graders in her classroom also liked ice cream.

Looten previously taught second grade. Over the summer, she transformed her classroom into a STEM lab, changing out books for tubs of supplies. She also worked on Project Lead the Way training to prepare.

With the new lab, both EIS elementary schools now have spaces dedicated to STEM activities. Morn­ing­side Elementary School opened a makerspace learning lab in February.

Turner said the school had Project Lead the Way materials but were not doing it justice.

“To do the program justice, we needed a teacher to specialize in it,” she said.

The school’s site-based, decision-making council decided to open the lab earlier this year.

“We didn’t feel like the master schedule allowed enough time for science,” Turner said.

Looten will help teach the science standards.

She was on the school’s council and said she was unsure of applying for the STEM instructor job. But she said she kept thinking of ideas and saw the potential.

“Liz’s teaching style and personality is a perfect fit,” Turner said.

Part of Looten’s first-day activities included reading “Not a Stick,” a children’s book that shows a stick will go as far as the imagination allows. Similarly, a poster in the room reminded students to think outside the box, something Looten encourages them to do while in the lab.

Katherine Knott can be reached at 270-505-1747 or kknott@thenewsenterprise.com.

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