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Swift Water students use STEM to design safe housing in extreme weather

Many people picture robots, computer science, and maybe mixing colorful chemicals when they think of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). While those lessons are always fun to learn, a lot of STEM curriculum can be used to solve real world problems, and be applied to day-to-day life. 

Take Nicollette LeTellier's classes at Swift Water Elementary School; this week she challenged her third grade students to build paper houses that would stay still when a fan blew on them to simulate a tornado.

“I think we need more problem solvers in the world that can look outside the box and come up with innovative solutions,” LeTellier said. “The next generations will have to solve many problems with the changing earth conditions and expanding population, so they’ll be designing new technologies.” 

LeTellier is Swift Water’s STEM Specialist, and teaches all grades new ways to apply STEM to their lives. She has been teaching for 18 years, and started at the Peninsula School District in 2016.  Her favorite part of the job is watching students experiment solutions to presented problems. 

“I love hands-on learning activities that try to solve real world problems. I love watching them redesign and keep working, especially when it’s a challenging task.” 

On Monday, Jan. 30, Swift Water third grade students constructed paper house models and were given two pieces of scotch tape, two paper clips, scrap paper, and a couple of toothpicks to try and construct a house that would not blow away during a major windstorm, simulated by a box fan. 

These students may only see a fun craft and challenge at first, but they were learning the basics of architecture and engineering that could later be used to build sturdy structures that can withstand extreme weather conditions. While many student’s houses blew away to the Land of Oz, others stood strong. Those who blew away were picked up by their creators to be remodeled. 

LeTellier, just like other STEM educators at PSD, is constantly looking for new projects and lessons for her students to learn about how to solve current situations. Soon LeTellier’s students will learn how to use robots to help clean up the world’s oceans of garbage. 

“Students will have to design, program, and operate their own apparatus to attach to the robot to pick up trash,” she said.

The reward for LeTellier’s work is seeing a student’s face light up when their experiment works. This is how PSD teacher’s inspire future innovators who will champion new ideas for their future.

Two young boys sit heads down at a table working on paper houses, a large screen plays instructions on a loop.

Two Swift Water third grade students work on their paper houses while instructions play on a loop on the class's Promethean Board.

Jan. 30, 2023

A young girl in a pink dress sits at a table and looks away as a female paraeducator smiles at her.

A paraeducator works with a student while they build a paper house during STEM class at Swift Water Elementary. 

Jan. 30, 2023

A young boy dressed in black waves a paper fan towards a paper house as a test for sturdiness.

A student tests out his house design with a paper fan before testing it with his teacher. 

Jan. 30, 2023.

Two young girls in coats sit at a table next to each other while working on paper houses.

Two students work together building paper houses and using toothpicks and paper clips to create a sturdy foundation. 

Jan. 30, 2023

A paraeducator helps a special education student create a paper house in her STEM class. 

Jan. 30, 2023

A close up of a child's hands placing blue tape on the edge of the roof of a paper house.

A student places scotch tape on the roof of her paper house in hopes it'll make it sturdy enough to withstand the wind. 

Jan. 30, 2023

Students and staff cheer as one paper house withstands the simulated windstorm created by their teacher with a box fan. 

Jan. 30, 2023

A young girl in a purple shirt smiles at the camera next to her paper house

A third-grade student smiles proudly while showing off her paper house. 

Jan. 30, 2023.


A group of third grade students stand around a table with paper houses while a female teacher holds a box fan to them

Students place their paper houses in front of a box fan to simulate a tornado and test their houses' foundations. 

Jan. 30, 2023.

A young girl in pink leans over to get a fist bump from her female teacher while at a table testing her paper house

Nicollette LeTellier, Swift Water Elementary School STEM Specialist, gives a student a fist bump after testing her house during the tornado fan simulation. 

Jan. 30, 2023


A third grade girl sits at a table holding a roof to a paper house.

A third grade student examines the roof to her paper house while thinking of ways to make it sturdy during a tornado. 

Jan. 30, 2023.


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