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3M grant creates Park Rapids class

8th graders (from left) Sam Huot and Brendan Henderson use a net to catch macroinvertebrates in Mrs. Marcussen’s water studies class. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)

By Nick Longworth

Each school year, the St. Paul-headquartered company 3M offers an educational grant statewide to school districts.

Called the “Ingenuity grant,” the purpose of the competitive grant is to foster an atmosphere of teachers working across grade levels to further integrate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into their classroom – sparking student interest and achievement alike.

The grant, which can be applied for by invitation only, is sent to schools each winter and includes instructions on how a school can apply. The competitive grants can reach up to $10,000 each, with up to $500,000 being awarded to schools in 3M communities across the U.S. in 2013 alone.

To apply, each district teacher participating creates a unique curriculum for their class (using the STEM components as a general basis). The curriculums are then scored against each other using the following criteria: alignment, teamwork, engagement, relevance, evaluation, sustainability, clarity, budget and principal’s letter of support.

This past April, Park Rapids Area School teachers Morgan Marcussen and Terry Zoller were informed that together they were awarded $8,750 by the 3M Ingenuity grant for their proposed curriculums.

“We looked at doing some innovative things in the middle school and how we would like to change up our curriculum,” said Shawn Andress, assistant principal at Century middle school.

“We wondered where the grant would be able to fit when Morgan approached us saying that she had a few ideas of her own. Receiving the grant then allowed us to put those ideas in place,” Andress said. “She explained in detail if we were awarded this grant what she would be able to implement. Morgan was the one who said ‘I’ve worked with this class before and had great success with it.’”

Marcussen, a science teacher at Century middle school for the past half-decade, created a “water quality study” class through the additional funding.

Borrowing the idea from a class she taught in Cannon Falls, students are taught hands-on how to test large bodies of water for contaminants and overall quality.

“Students collect samples and do chemical tests for oxygen, phosphate, nitrates, PH and macro invertebrates (bugs). The students gather all the data and make some sort of statement about the water quality. As a group they are then able to make all of these determinations using what they have learned in class.”

Marcussen stressed the fact that little of the class activity would have been possible without receiving $8,750 from 3M’s grant.

“(Through the grant) we have purchased water quality kits in all different varieties. We take the class to Fish Hook river twice a quarter where they actually collect samples and do tests onsite, just like an actual DNR officer would,” Marcussen said.

“It was nice because we were actually able to buy good equipment, like an actual turbidity tube that professionals would be using in the field; also nets and knee-high boots. The kids were able to actually take part in the assignment rather than just me showing them what to do. It made it more meaningful field research. Especially at this age it was nice to get their interest level going,” Marcussen said.

The second curriculum, Terry Zoller’s learning with Lego robotics – will help students learn about robotics through the use of Legos. It will allow students to build, program and test robots while gathering data on the computer.

Zoller is still fine-tuning her program while looking for supporting teachers to help. She declined comment until details are officially complete.

Andress, however, commented on behalf of Zoller’s impending program.

“We are not sure exactly where her program is going to fit, but we are very excited for its potential. We are largely held up on the software and training components of the program. The official product remains to be seen, but we will continue with the training and the preparation and hopefully in the New Year we will be ready to go,” Andress said.

Andress and Marcussen look forward to the future of the program made possible by 3M’s Ingenuity grant. Both agree the district will pursue similar results in the future.

“Next year we are going to be looking to possibly expand the programs and ordering expansion kits with additional funds. Now not only will we be able to teach the introduction class but also continue into more advanced methods with those subjects,” Andress said.

“If kid’s can leave with a little hands-on experience and a little extra knowledge of the freshwater available around them then that would be great. The whole idea is we are training kids for jobs that aren’t even created yet. We want kids to be thinkers, creators and problem-solvers,” Marcussen said.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
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