Manti Library using grant to make kearning about science more fun
By Ben Lasseter
At the Manti City Library, learning about how the world works from a scientific perspective is fun.
Twice a week, elementary and middle students from the Manti area and beyond check in for Makerspace lessons after their school and homeschool classes. There are 44 students enrolled who participate on a voluntary basis, up from five when it began two years ago.
Library director Cynthia Tibbs Lopez founded the program while working at the library. Most recently, Jeanette Perdue took over the program when she started working as a library assistant in March, right when the COVID-19 pandemic forced virtual learning.
Perdue’s lessons can last from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on how many students log on. She broadcasts live through an iPad in front of a green screen with studio lighting equipment. Although the Zoom-learning style comes with difficulties in simulating a classroom dynamic, she is still able to engage with students.
The point of the program, she said, is to introduce them to new interests in the STEM and STEAM curricula with real-world applications. STEM stands for science, technology engineering and mathematics, and STEAM also incorporates the arts.
In recent years especially, high and middle schools have given more emphasis to these areas of study. Innovation week at various local schools, for example, gets students involved in individual creative projects. Manti Elementary School has a studio complete with computers and 3D-printers to foster creative projects in more technical fields
“I want to get children involved with creative topics so they will ask why things work,” Perdue said. “STEM addresses those questions.”
In more normal years, past Makerspace directors have taught students by grouping them in desk groups with class materials related to weekly course topics, such as water, weather, food and health and many more. This year, Perdue prepares brown-bag kits with items her students can use at home for interactive learning as she teaches through a video meeting.
This week, for example, the kits students pick up from the library before classes include puppets the students will use in demonstrations of Groundhog Day. But before primary lessons, Perdue warms the class up with games such as bingo and quiz activities.
Earlier this year, activities included a “healthy hydration” program, testing effectiveness of different face coverings with spray bottles, an introductory computer coding program, testing soap efficiency with pepper-water and monthly engineering challenges such as building miniature igloos and wind turbines.
Later on, the class will send the students on a bird-counting assignment, data from which Perdue will send to a national database. To teach the scientific method, the class will put the question of how many licks it takes to reach chocolate in Tootsie Pops.
In what will be a “busy” February, they will also make fortune-style cookies for the Chinese New Year and have to build a small box with limited parts to hold Valentine’s Day candy.
Perdue aims to use the class to show children “other options” than traditional classroom topics that she hopes will open their minds to “different career ideas and ways of doing things.”
Having homeschooled her two children at the high school level for three years, she values the ability she has to teach students at paces based on individual learning levels in Makerspace. And she believes opening the classroom again will only enhance the personal relationships she has formed with her students.
Another boost to the program will be in funding, which she secured last month in a grant from the Central Utah Water District.
Perdue had a goal to get $300, which by itself would have doubled the program’s yearly budget that comes through the library. Lo and behold, the organization awarded a $1000 donation to Makerspace.
She plans to use $500 of this to boost the Manti Makerspace program. This opens possibilities, she said, to give students better kits and classroom materials and fund a field trip.
She plans to share the other $500 with other libraries in the area to promote STEM-based learning programs, especially Makerspace. This could even allow the branches to purchase equipment to share, she said, such as a telescope to have “night parties” or view an upcoming eclipse. No decisions have been made official, though.
Perdue also hopes to form and strengthen allegiances between the library and the Great Salt Lake Institute biology researchers and a local natural history museum.
Two ways the community can support the program, she said, are with donations of learning materials and professionals volunteering time to speak to the students about their careers. For more information about getting involved with Makerspace, call the Manti City Library at 835-2201.