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Elementary students discover engineering with UVU SEEdPODs

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Forbes Elementary students opening boxes full of equipment for engineering and science experiments created by UVU faculty and students. (Photo: Nicole Kunze)

What started as an idea for a mobile learning system to get elementary school students interested in engineering and technology was finally realized on Friday, Feb. 26, when a trailer full of green bins with teaching tools and lessons was delivered to Forbes Elementary in American Fork. The SEEdPODs, an acronym from Utah’s Science and Engineering Education standards, are the brainchild of Dean Saeed Moaveni from the UVU College of Engineering and will make their way through the elementary schools in Alpine School District in the coming months and years.

“This is an active collaboration between the School of Education at UVU and the College of Engineering and Technology with Facebook and Alpine School District. Faculty and students in the School of Education have written the curriculum and figured out how to organize the lessons,” said Vessela Ilieva, Dean of the UVU School of Education. “There’s nothing random here. It’s all organized so that teachers can take the lesson kits with the lesson plan and everything is ready for them to conduct experiments and activities centered around engineering and technology.”

The SEEdPOD at Forbes Elementary is one of two sponsored by Facebook, the other is currently at Thunder Ridge Elementary. There are two other traveling SEEdPODs, one sponsored by UVU in Blanding and the other sponsored by Micron is also in Alpine School District. “We are actively working to find more donors to support this program, who see the value it carries for the students. It also has the potential to help our pre-service teachers who are learning how to navigate that innovation in education early on while they’re still in preparation,” said Ilieva. 

The pods are designed to make engineering and technology equipment accessible to local classrooms and reduce statewide inequities in STEM for women and minorities. Sixth grade students at Forbes Elementary opened box after box to find tuning forks, virtual reality goggles, solar car kits, golf balls, percussion drums, solar and hydro-powered models among the treasures. 

“There’s a lesson about vibration where the students use bowls and tuning forks. They’ll make drums and watch sequins bouncing off the drums,” explained Dr. Krista Ruggles from the UVU School of Education. Ruggles hand-picked three Elementary Education students who used grant money to fund their research and development of each SEEdPOD lesson for the last two years. A pilot study in a Provo third grade classroom helped narrow the focus of the lessons. Starting last fall, a full implementation of all the lessons in every grade was conducted at Suncrest Elementary. Ruggles and her team knew they had something special when they saw the impact on the elementary school students.

“We knew what we wanted to accomplish with each lesson on paper, but we edited and revised after being in the classroom,” explained Jessica Pierce, one of the UVU students who created the SEEdPOD lesson kits. 

“We bought these solar cars that looked really cool and we were so excited about them. We got them all put together, fifty of them, and only five worked. That was disappointing! We got some different solar cars for these pods and we know they work. The kids are so engaged with the cars and we knew we had to have them,” said Kate Elliott, an Elementary Education student at UVU who also worked on the SEEdPOD lessons.

Other experiments were extremely successful. “The fourth graders loved the connect kits with renewable energy. They picked machines that were either wind-powered, solar-powered or water-powered and then they were able to build and test them. They were very into the whole process,” said Kylee Pugh, the third UVU Elementary Education student working on the SEEdPODs.

“This has been so rewarding for me. Maybe this will be the spark for some of these students to want to study engineering and science,” added Pierce.

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