Literacy and STEM: Making the Connection

Literacy and STEM: Making the Connection

Petra Maier, CIEP Academic Support Specialist /

From June 5 to June 18, UNI, in a unique collaboration with the Office of International Engagement Culture and Intensive English Program (CIEP), the Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education (IRCEDE), and the Waterloo Community School District, hosted a one-of-a-kind program specifically tailored for migrant English language learners enrolled in the Waterloo school district.

A group of 15 students from grades K-6 had the opportunity to participate in this enriching program. The program's unique focus was developing literacy skills and exploring science, technology, engineering and mathematics through a student-centered emergent curriculum designed to nurture their natural curiosity.

The program was held in the IRCEDE classrooms, which provided a supportive learning environment for the students. The program was led by teachers Petra Maier (CIEP) and Francis Dugbartey (IRCEDE), with support from two experienced Waterloo Community School District teachers, Wendy Kies and Ana Fix. Reflecting on the methodology used to support the instructional approach, Francis Dugbartey explains, “One of the most striking aspects of this camp was the high level of engagement and enthusiasm displayed by the students. Unlike traditional classroom settings where learning can sometimes feel passive, this camp fostered an active and dynamic environment. For instance, I vividly remember a young student so excited about the next day's activities that they eagerly shared their anticipation with their peers and myself as the instructor.”

Dugbartery continues by stating, “This deep investment in the learning process is a testament to the effectiveness of the camp's self-directed approach (Qizi, 2023).

The child-centered approach of this camp allowed students to take charge of their learning journey. This methodology encouraged them to think critically, solve their tasks, and learn from their mistakes. Learning from mistakes is a vital component of the educational experience, as it helps students develop resilience and adaptability (Schenkel, 2002; Nugent et al., 2012; Cooke, 2022; Huyer et al., 2020)."

Throughout the two weeks, the students were not just passive learners, but actively involved in stimulating topics from the IRCEDE curriculum. They enjoyed engaging in various classroom activities, such as building with blocks, constructing ramps, experimenting with water and bubbles, playing math and balance games, creating multiple art projects, reading books centered on STEM topics, and journaling about their experiences and work. This active participation not only made the learning process more enjoyable but also enhanced their understanding of the subjects, showcasing the effectiveness of the child-centered approach. 

In addition to classroom activities, the students explored the campus. They visited the UNI Botanical Center, the Tallgrass Prairie Center, and the Youth Collection at Rod Library. They also participated in an exciting session on robotics conducted by Dr. Leigh Zeitz. 

On the last day of the program, during an open house, the students' families had an opportunity to visit the Schindler Education Center to see the children’s classrooms and view their work. The event concluded with a ceremony honoring the students with certificates of completion, celebrating their remarkable accomplishments and the successful completion of the program's first year. 

As the Literacy/STEM summer program was a positive experience for everyone involved, we, the Office of International Engagement, Waterloo Community School District, and the Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education, are looking forward to continuing collaborating and providing this opportunity to migrant English language learners students.