STEM igloos made by Appoquinimink students

STEM igloo Silver Lake
Second grade students Aiden Tweh and Emily Hunter pose with Silver Lake Elementary Principal Christy Boyd in their igloo that their class built as part of a district-wide STEM competition. (Brooke Schultz)

MIDDLETOWN — It was a feat of engineering – Engineering is the ‘E’ in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – for the groups of first- and second-graders in the Appoquinimink School District who assembled their very own igloos for the winter.

The igloos — constructed out of plastic milk or water jugs and glue — were created as part of an annual STEM competition intending to keep students learning before winter break.

“When I was a student, the day or two before break, we watched movies all day, which wasn’t super educational,” said Todd Dunn, district science specialist. “We wanted to try to focus on keeping the fun there, and the engagement there, and incorporate some STEM into that as well.”

The competition stipulated that the igloo could be crafted by a class, grade or the entire school. There was no maximum size requirements, but the igloo had to hold a “small learning community” of two students and one teacher.

Last week, Dunn and Mario Tiberi, district social studies specialists, checked in on the school’s creations to select a winner based off a scoring rubric. The top igloo crafting school earned a $50 prize, which is to be used in the classroom with student input. The runner up received $25. (Students at Silver Lake Elementary suggested the last place receive at least $1; that request is pending.)

“We’ve never seen kids so excited to be carrying a milk jug into school,” said Jen Thomas, principal of Olive B. Loss Elementary.

She said she was impressed to see the conversations — about stability and balance — that happened between the students in crafting the “bricks” that became the igloo.

“You have to take all of those facets into consideration, and then weighing your vision against the materials that you have to build it — just the creativity and excitement,” she said. The reveal of the igloo, which they did Friday morning, was “like the big buildup for the whole month.”

Brianna Frazee, a first-grader, said that it was fun to be creative for the project.

STEM igloo Olive Loss
Olive B. Loss Elementary School students constructed an igloo out of milk cartons as part of a districtwide STEM challenge, as a way to stay engaged academically before break. (Brooke Schultz)

“Because we got to go inside and see all the stuff,” she noted.

Simone Woulard, a first-grader, agreed that it was fun, and it reinforced her math scores.

“If you add more than just one number, you can make a bigger number that you don’t know,” she said. “Even if you build an igloo, that doesn’t mean you just have to actually build it. You can build it by numbers and equations.”

Mr. Dunn noted that STEM is an important part of the district.

“Statistics say that 65 percent of these kids will get a job in a STEM field,” he said. “So we’re really focusing on those STEM skills, those engineering skills, those math skills, those science skills.”

While the district has done STEM holiday challenges in the past, Mr. Dunn said they were at a smaller scale than this.

“We could have real easily given out a worksheet with problems and said, ‘Can you add these four numbers?’” he said. “The purpose behind this is having kids see the real-life connections and apply science, technology, engineering and math into it.”

Because middle school students and high school students have more access to STEM education, Mr. Dunn said they wanted to introduce these skills to younger students.

Throughout the elementary schools, students worked together to craft a structure in time for the holiday break. While some had difficulty acquiring enough jugs for igloo, Silver Lake students listed off the things they learned: teamwork, building, “measuring before you make” and to synergize.

“Doing this is really all about getting kids exposed as early as I think these kinds of opportunities are going to prepare our kids better to go into those middle school STEM classes,” Mr. Dunn said.