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Fort Worth ISD Offers Elementary Students “Hands-on” Experience in STEM* Education


“Three! Two! One,” a group of excited D. McRae Elementary School students shout as their classmate lowers her finger onto a black button.

She presses the button. A sound, similar to a trumpet blaring, echoes through the school grounds as a paper rocket catapults from a pressurized launcher and soars through the air.

“Whoa,” the students shout in amazement as the rocket floats over the school’s back fence before making a landing on Vaughn Boulevard where parents wait in their vehicles for afternoon pickup.

“Good job,” instructor Lila LeCuyer tells the student pleased with her result, as another child prepares for their own rocket launch.lecuyer

Over and over, students shout “3,2,1!” as approximately 20 children take turns at launching their own rockets. Some fly out into the faculty parking lot; others whimper a few yards, while others soar high before landing out of view.

“Where did it go?” the students ask. 

Second through fifth grade students at D. McRae Elementary were the first to experience the District’s STEM Mobile Innovation Lab tour across the Fort Worth ISD this academic year. They were also the first to meet the District’s new mobile STEM lab teachers, Ms. LeCuyer and Joshua Grizzelle.

The two science teachers hold certifications for early childhood through eighth grade. Ms. LeCuyer, who is from New Mexico, is starting her first year with the District and her fourth in Texas. Her background is in third-grade science. Mr. Grizzelle, now in his 26th year as an educator, has been with the District eight years. He’s taught fifth grade science and kindergarten.

Earlier this month the District’s Career and Technical Education Department hired Ms. LeCuyer and Mr. Grizzelle to take its STEM Mobile Innovation Lab trailers “on the road” to District campuses throughout FWISD to engage students in STEM-related activities and modules at each stop, like flying drones, 3-D printing, programming robots and much more. 

The two educators will write curriculum that exposes students to skills they may not learn in the classroom. Curriculum can also be customized by campus. If a school or class struggles with a particular Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standard and needs additional help, lessons can be designed to address the needs of the school or class, Ms. LeCuyer said.

“There’s a really cool opportunity for us as science educators to kind of grab it by the reins and get to come up with our own ideas and make it our own which is really, really exciting to me,” she said. “I’m really excited so far to see all the students that we’re going to be able to inspire through doing this.”jg

This week, CTE began dispatching one trailer to one campus per week, Monday through Thursday. Following the Labor Day holiday, two trailers will be dispatched to District elementary and middle school campuses weekly. The mobile STEM labs will also be part of FWISD’s Saturday Learning Quest programming, which launches September 11.   

On Tuesday, August 24, 2021, the Board of Education approved the purchase of two additional STEM Mobile Innovation Lab that the CTE plans to staff soon with two additional mobile STEM lab educators.

The trailers will first visit campuses in the Polytechnic High School pyramid before venturing out to other pyramids across the District throughout the school year. 

“It’s wonderful. The vision of the trailers and the overall goal is to create an experience,” said Timothy Rogers, a CTE instructional specialists who trained the new instructors. “When you look at the learning gap over the last 12-18 months … now we’re able to target that by grade level.

“Here’s a way to support K-5 [and middle school] in a way that we’ve never been able to before. This is a great opportunity.”

The FWISD STEM trailer offer students hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activity modules including Building Materials, Alternative Energy, Robotics, and 3-D Electronics (ZSpace). Through ZSpace, an augmented and virtual reality technology, students learn STEM subjects using immersive images that they can move and manipulate. 

“Instead of just working with one group of fifth graders or one school worth of students, I’m able now to reach thousands of students,” Mr. Grizzelle said. “We’re going to work with every elementary school in the District this year and every middle school, so we’re going to walk away having reached 30,000 students at least.

“The idea of bringing out to the kids … or out to the schools was very enticing – being a traveling science teacher or traveling STEM teacher.”stem lab

Throughout the school year, Ms. LeCuyer and Mr. Grizzelle hope to present lessons about robotics; coding; programming; alternative energy; materials processing and forensic science at the middle school level.

As the school day came to a close back at D. McRae Elementary earlier this week, students escaped from the Texas heat and into an air-conditioned classroom. Separated into three groups, the children took turns – with direction from their instructors – operating small drones from an iPad just minutes before the final school bell rang.

As the drones levitated from the classroom tables, hovering above the students’ heads, some began to wave at the floating devices. Others’ eyes lit up with excitement while multiple smiles escaped from behind the children’s face coverings.

“I have not seen any students walk away that didn’t have a smile on their face,” Mr. Grizzelle said. “Whether their rocket flew, or it didn’t fly, whether they crashed the drone or didn’t crash the drone, everybody walked away looking like they had enjoyed themselves and had a good time. Really that’s the goal – trying to get them excited about these fields of study.

“It’s something they’re not seeing daily in an elementary school, so this is unique in that aspect.”    



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