Gordon Elementary librarian Sheila Fagan-Trunkey stands in front of the school’s STEM section at the library. Shelves of materials — from PlayDoh to “Bee Bots,” are available to help students make connections between science and creativity. (Sophie Bonomi / Kitsap News Group)

Gordon Elementary encourages STEM learning

The days of “quiet in the library” have changed as school libraries nationwide increasingly become venues for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities

KINGSTON — The days of “quiet in the library” have changed as school libraries nationwide increasingly become venues for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities.

Locally, schools such as Gordon Elementary are using programs like MakerSpace to inspire tinkering, creativity and conversation, leading to a better understanding of scientific principals.

Sheila Fagan-Trunkey, librarian at Gordon Elementary, said this shift is a welcome one.

“Any chance where we can bolster student access to hands-on science is an opportunity,” she said.

Fagan-Trunkey said events like biannual family STEM nights is an opportunity to bring families together to learn together.

“Here, parents can participate in creating that understanding,” she said.

Fagan-Trunkey said each of the STEM nights seems to have more participants and have had an overwhelmingly positive response. She is excited the events are having a positive impact on both students and families.

“[Students] ask when our next STEM night is, and they’re using the language of science, using phrases like, ‘Can you pass the LEDs’ … It’s a big deal,” she said. “They’re excited about it, and when they’re excited, they’re engaged.”

More than 200 family members participated in the last STEM night30, where families and students created light-up holiday greeting cards. Participants watched a short instruction video, then set to work exploring circuitry using a copper wire, a coin battery and small LED light bulbs.

“It’s a whole community involvement,” Fagan-Trunkey said.

North Kitsap Options upperclassmen and students from Kingston High School’s Associated Student Body volunteer to assist with the science-oriented events.

Last year, Gordon Elementary was approached by staff of the USS Turner Joy STEM program, who were invited to the school to share exploration stations with students.

Gordon Elementary’s next STEM night, Feb. 23, will be on creating “art bots,” Fagan-Trunkey said. The activity will take a modern twist on the spirograph by utilizing various materials, including pens and the head of an electric toothbrush.

“STEM nights allow everyone involved to jump right in and have the same common experience,” she said. “It’s engaging in science and engineering. And that’s the beauty of it — there are no wrong answers.”

Gordon Elementary isn’t the only local school participating in regular STEM nights; in fact, Fagan-Trunkey acknowledges she received a little coaching from other instructors in the district.

Jerrine Gabrio, instructional support instructor in the North Kitsap School District, and Pearson Elementary principal Deb Foreman were said by Fagan-Trunkey to be a huge help.

“Both were instrumental in mentoring me in the ins and outs of running a successful STEM Night,” she said. She also works with Gordon teacher Diane Campbell to host STEM events for the school.

“This is what’s happening in schools and public libraries across the country. This [goes] way beyond me,” Fagan-Trunkey said.

The North Kitsap School District participates in an annual “hour of code” session in December, where students of all levels sharpen their coding skills through activities preparing students for the technological-driven world.

Grants from the Suquamish Tribe, Gordon Elementary PTA, and a $1,000 education science grant from donarschoose.org have enabled Gordon to purchase materials for their exploration sessions.

From tools to inspire creativity and tinkering — called “Makey-Makey” — to Bee-Bots where students can practice simple programming, Fagan-Trunkey hopes STEM activities will continue to inspire and build scientific curiosity.

“Traditionally, the library was a place to go to consume knowledge,” she said. “Here, now, we are the creators of new knowledge. We still practice the classic use of the library, but now we share our findings. The library space has totally changed.”

While school libraries in North Kitsap continue to transform from quiet spaces to work spaces, Fagan-Trunkey said students are “learning to take risks” through STEM activities.

Madilynn Eimon, an NK Options student at Gordon Elementary, reflected on the STEM project focusing on circuitry.

“We worked with our friends and shared with each other,” she said. “It was really cool using the copper wire tape and how it took the electricity to each light and used electricity.”

Student Lucy Asadorian-Myers excitedly chimed in, “And Mrs. Trunkey is always making things fun.”

Gordon Elementary librarian Sheila Fagan-Trunkey showcases “Makey Makey” materials, STEM-designed activities by graduates from MIT that foster programming skills. (Sophie Bonomi / Kitsap News Group)

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