Organizations across the state began celebrating the 6th Annual STEM Week Oregon on Saturday. The week is part of a movement to raise awareness and engage in activities involving science, technology, engineering and math.

Some organizations, like the local Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub, have taken the movement further, adding a focus in the arts. The hub usually celebrates STEAM Week with the STEAM Extravaganza, held annually at Umpqua Community College. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the STEAM Extravaganza will take a virtual approach.

According to Gwen Soderberg-Chase, director of the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub, STEM Oregon created this year’s theme with the current situation in mind. To counter the “likely fatigue caused by too much video conferencing, screen time and time cooped up indoors,” the week long celebration will focus on exploring the world around us.

Each day will have a new theme: Make-It Monday, Take Apart Tuesday, What Are You Wondering Wednesday, Think About It Thursday, Field Trip Friday, Sounds and Shadows Saturday; and Soaring Sunday.

Soderberg-Chase said the local team, as well as partners across the state, have put together an assortment of activities that are family-friendly, use simple materials and provide challenges for all ages. Challenges associated with each day’s theme can be found at the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub website, Facebook or on flyers that have been distributed out to local schools.

Doug Freeman, principal of Hucrest Elementary School, said the skills learned through STEAM activities — critical thinking and problem-solving, community-based and project-based learning, collaboration and teamwork, inquiry, questioning and creative innovation — are skills that can be applied to nearly every learning experience.

Hucrest Elementary received a grant prior to the coronavirus outbreak to become a STEAM school. Over the next three years, they will begin integrating different learning styles associated with STEAM learning.

“We feel that the 21st century student coming to us has changed in the way they are able to stay focused with the learning process,” Freeman said. “They are not passive learners anymore. They have to be involved in it.”

Freeman said one of Hucrest’s third grade teachers, Irene Noyes, said it best: STEAM allows kids to learn the way humans were intended to learn.

“Their hands are in it. They’re inquiring, they’re thinking, they’re playing with it. They’re hearing it, seeing it. All of their learning styles are all being used. When you get in the middle of the lesson, that is how you learn it best,” Freeman said.

STEAM learning isn’t solely classroom oriented, but can be taken outdoors. Isaac and Stephanie Ashby have done just that with Tyee Outdoor Experience.

“STEAM is a way to teach people how to think through open ended challenges, activities and lessons that are very hands on and what a better place to do that, at least in my opinion, than outside,” Isaac Ashby said. “Everything you do outside is hands on.”

Both What Are You Wondering Wednesday, which encourages finding outdoor wildlife and observing its characteristics, and Field Trip Friday, an outdoor scavenger hunt, encourage taking learning outside with simple tasks easily completed even with social distancing.

Participants can register these and other STEAM Week activities at stemoregon.org/stem-week-oregon-2020 to be included on the participation map and be entered into daily drawings. Projects can also be shared on social media by using #STEMWeekOR and #UVSTEAM.

STEAM Week Oregon will continue until May 17.

Erica Welch is the special sections editor for The News-Review. She can be reached at ewelch@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4218.

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Community Reporter

Erica Welch is the special sections editor for The News-Review, mother of two and a native of Roseburg. She is an alumni of RHS, UCC and Western Oregon University. Contact her at ewelch@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4218.

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