Feature Stories

Elementary Students Explore STEM Opportunities During Tonka Coders and Makers Week

This winter, Minnetonka elementary students explored STEM opportunities through Tonka Coders and Makers Week, a time set aside at each school during the months of December and January in order to generate enthusiasm around coding and making and foster a sense of school-wide community. 

“The goal for the week was to provide students with an authentic coding activity in which they code to develop an ‘app’ that serves a specific purpose,” shared Amanda Fay, Director of Instructional Technology. “We wanted to provide students with an exposure to the basic layer of mathematical code used by computer hardware, upon which all other code is built and to give them the opportunity to solve a STEM problem by ‘making’ and introduce a wider variety of HUB making materials to teachers and students.” 

Tonka Coders and Makers Week was inspired by the national Hour of Code Week initiative that started a decade ago, explained Kirsten Lunzer, fourth grade teacher at Deephaven and elementary Tonka Codes lead. This year, Minnetonka made the week its own by encouraging each elementary school to celebrate the week during a time period that worked best for their schedule. “This way, we can also make sure classes get a chance to really focus on the week,” said Lunzer. 

The coding projects in each grade were designed to allow students to practice their learning in core curricular areas. From coding Bee-Bot robots to reach a goal (Kindergarten) and programming a Scratch Jr. "sight-word flashcard app" in which sight words get bigger and read themselves aloud when tapped (grades 1-2) to programming a Scratch Jr. "Multiple Choice Quiz'' with student or teacher-designed questions on a curricular area and multiple possible answers (grades 3-5), students had many different opportunities to connect coding to their learning.

The week also provided a chance to explore, make and build with a different HUB material or technology at each grade level, and to learn about the concept of binary and its role in computer hardware.

The HUB maker space projects for the week included examining light and shadows with Keva planks and Magna Tiles (grade 1), using Straw Building kits, MakeDo plastic screws, tools, and cardboard to build basic shelters (grade 2), programming Ozobots to navigate a maze (grade 3), building functional video game controller with a Makey Makey and paper circuits or building with mirrors to solve light puzzles (grade 4), and programming Sphero or Edison robots to trace a given geometrical shape (grade 5). 

“At Deephaven, the second graders loved building with the MakeDo plastic screws, cardboard, and straw-building kits to create shelters so much that they begged their teachers to extend the activity so each small group could have a turn with both materials,” said Lunzer. “The classes ended up using a whole afternoon apiece, engrossed in their building and comparing the advantages of the structures!” 

Lunzer also shared that fourth grade “Code Mentors” at Deephaven beamed with pride and gained confidence and interpersonal skills via the leadership opportunities of guiding the first graders in Robot Turtles coding board games and helping them debug their Scratch Jr. apps and tackle their tech issues.

Great work, coders and makers!

Girls smiling

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