St. Brendan STEM students work on real-world problems

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Adam Noga-Styron, a fifth-grader at St. Brendan School in Bothell, learns about communicable diseases during a biomedical science project that is part of the school’s STEM curriculum. Photo: Beth Compton Adam Noga-Styron, a fifth-grader at St. Brendan School in Bothell, learns about communicable diseases during a biomedical science project that is part of the school’s STEM curriculum. Photo: Beth Compton

BOTHELL – Fifth-graders at St. Brendan School became scientists this year, spending weeks learning how a communicable disease spreads through a community.

“We got to work in groups and be our own detectives,” solving problems on their own, said student Kassidy Irish. “You can learn so much and you can take your time and really get into it,” she added.

The detective work came during a series of biomedical science projects that are part of the Bothell school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. It uses project-based modules designed by nonprofit Project Lead the Way in the fields of computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

Those are the areas with the biggest opportunity for future employment, explained fifth-grade teacher Beth Compton, and the special projects “gets [students] excited at an early age.”

Solving real-world problems

School leaders implemented the STEM program in 2017 as part of the strategic plan for the school, which has 221 students in preschool through eighth-grade, according to Principal Catherine Shumate.

St. Brendan School
A fifth-grader at St. Brendan School in Bothell learns about computer disease simulations as part of a class biomedical science project. Photo: Beth Compton

Elementary school students participate in the STEM curriculum, with each grade focusing on something different: first-graders, light and sound; second-graders, stability in motion; third-graders, the science of flight; fourth-graders, the human brain; and fifth-graders, infections. The modules are completed in addition to other science lessons.

In Kayla Harris’ fourth-grade class, students were tasked with building a model car out of Lego-like building blocks and creating a restraint system in the car to protect a raw egg. It was part of a module on energy and collision that included learning about concussions and how they occur. Working in teams of three or four students, each team discussed and ranked ideas before designing their restraint system. The teams used bubble wrap, plastic wrap, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, rubber bands and tin foil in an effort to keep their eggs from cracking. Each team had to roll its car down a ramp to test the restraint system. All the eggs survived last year; only one cracked this year, the teacher said.

“You get to test out your design and see if you get a good result or a bad result,” said student Madison Deal, who found that the cotton balls she used in her car were effective in protecting her egg.

After the egg experiment, the class began the next module, which gave them exposure to coding strategies as they developed an app to test reaction times of people with concussions.

“They get to solve real-world problems,” Harris said.

Figuring out ‘patient zero’

During the fifth-graders’ study of communicable diseases, they learned about the scientific process, how germs transfer, cell types and DNA. They learned how an illness moves through a community, how researchers in health departments operate when an outbreak occurs and how to warn and educate the public

The class applied that information to a mystery — figuring out “patient zero” after students “contracted” symptoms of an undetermined disease. The students had to research a list of diseases, figure which ones were communicable, study their symptoms and compare them to the symptoms the students had. In the end, they learned the disease was strep throat.

The fifth-graders’ study of communicable diseases expanded with a project about dinosaur ecosystems and infection modeling, and they will study robotics and hone their coding skills by designing a game.

“I love to the see the creativity on how the kids are applying their thinking,” Compton said.


Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the students in the photos. We regret the error.