St. John’s Science Department Earns Grant for Exploration Station Makerspace STEAM Lab

We are so grateful to the Greater Salina Community Foundation for their recent grant to the school.Col. William Clark

The science teachers at St. John’s Military School have always taken an innovative approach to their curriculum. To further their efforts to make learning science fun and exploratory, faculty members Pam Kraus and Anna Befort envisioned adding additional modern interactive tools and supplies to their department. Now, thanks to the Greater Salina Community Foundation, their vision is becoming a reality. The Science Department recently received a $5000 grant to develop a new Exploration Station Makerspace and STEAM Lab. The grant dollars were among $37,760 in funds the Greater Salina Community Foundation awarded to ten area nonprofit organizations. Funding was provided through the foundation’s L.P. “Pat” Mullen Fund and the Kansas Health Foundation Fund for GSCF.

Expanding Science Learning In and Out of the Classroom

According to St. John’s President Col. William Clark, the grant funds will allow the school to enhance the quality of their academic instruction.

“We are so grateful to the Greater Salina Community Foundation for their recent grant to the school. Their efforts are allowing us to create a new Exploration Station / STEAM Lab within the school’s library. All of this is designed to enhance one of the five main pillars of the school— academics. The grant by the GSCF is just another example of the wonderful partnership and support St. John’s Military School receives from the Salina community.”

The makerspace concept is a learning approach that is expanding across the nation. It offers a do-it-yourself approach to education where students can utilize readily-available modern technology materials to explore, create, and innovate. Makerspace STEAM labs specifically inspire integrative learning in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). According to Ms. Kraus, Makerspace classroom offerings are becoming popular ways for teachers to share materials between classrooms and encourage exploration and experimentation beyond classroom assignments.

“The idea is that you have tools and materials available for students so that they can experiment and explore and learn on their own,” said Kraus.

Kraus and Befort have maximized their grant funds to bring their students the latest advancements in science learning. They are acquiring a 3-D printer, K’nex kits, additional materials and autoboots for their robotics collection, and new materials for their rocketry instruction and high altitude balloon launch experiments.

“We’re now able to offer our students some really exciting technology,” said Ms. Befort. “We want them to have the opportunity to explore science in ways that go beyond the classroom.”

The teachers have also earmarked funds for faculty professional development so that all of St. John’s teachers in all departments can learn how to incorporate cross-curricular STEAM instruction into their classrooms.

Shared Learning and Shared Excitement

According to Befort, the St. John’s students are just as excited as their teachers to begin taking full advantage of their new Makerspace STEAM lab.

“As our new materials have arrived our students have wanted to use them right away,” said Befort. “They see our excitement, and we’re all exploring and learning together.”

Kraus adds, “It proves to the students that there is life-long learning and that they shouldn’t be scared to learn new things.”

Befort and Kraus are also seeing that the new Makerspace materials are piquing the interest of students who were not previously as engaged in the science classroom, or members of the STEAM club.

“I’ve seen students who weren’t interested in our STEAM afterschool program take one look at the 3-D printer, or our new Ozobots and ask how they can get involved,” said Befort.

Expanding Modern Curriculum

A new learning opportunity for their students that has Kraus and Befort particularly excited is the ability they will have now to expand their computer coding curriculum.

“We used to only spend one lesson on computer programming. Now we can incorporate our new Ozobots into the lesson and expand our ability to teach our students about logic coding and how a computer works,” said Kraus.

A Future Filled with Possibilities

For Kraus and Befort, who continue to find creative ways to engage their students in and outside of the classroom and help them to see the potential of pursuing a career in science, the Pat Mullen funded grant from the Greater Salina Community Foundation is allowing them to open more learning opportunities, and open their students’ minds in impactful ways.

“Pat Mullen had a desire to help young people advance their learning of STEAM curriculum,” said Kraus. “He knew there was a need for more young people to get involved in tech and pursue careers in the field. Our vision for our students perfectly aligns with his desire, and we are so grateful for the funding we received to further that goal.”