Ask second-grader Kieran what his favorite class is, and he won’t miss a beat: “STEM.”

Ask him about his favorite STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—project, and he’ll describe the raft he and his partner built from straws and pipe cleaners.

“We made them so the three billy goats wouldn’t get caught by the trolls,” he explains.


Each Wednesday, students in teacher Michelle Staley’s Hockinson Heights Elementary classroom take on STEM projects—often linking science with literature.

In the case of the billy goat rafts, Staley’s class read the folk tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” Then Staley challenged her students to build a raft that would carry the goats across the river. (That way they wouldn’t have to cross the bridge and risk encountering a troll.)

As with every STEM project in her classroom, Staley put her students in pairs. She gave them straws and pipe clean­ers to build a raft, plus three pennies representing the three goats riding on the raft. The goal was for the raft to float for 10 seconds.

“STEM is fun,” says second-grader Hudson. “It builds your imagination, how you get creative, how you react, how you’ll build a structure.”

Staley says she and other HHES colleagues find STEM inspiration online from fellow teachers who are also seeking ways to connect science to real-world applications.

Their efforts play into Hockinson’s goal to expand STEM curricula district wide. Assistant Superintendent Slade McSheehy says STEM’s hands-on learning offers students pathways to a variety of occupations, including the con­struction trades, the medical field, technology, engineering and others.

“STEM can help us create career awareness in the Elemen­tary School, and career exploration and preparation in the Middle School and High School,” he says.

Staley says she’s amazed at how her students’ knowledge has deepened over the school year, and she’s observed that their STEM work appears to be impacting their other classes.

“They’re starting to think more critically and work more collaboratively,” she says.