STEM Toys Build Student Successes

A classmate used his magnetic building tiles to build a shark with fins and a big mouth. Others used straw connectors to create dogs and dog houses, connector pieces to make zebras and flamingos, and brain flakes to make horses and zebras.

The activities are possible thanks to $1,002 grants received from both the Barry Community Foundation’s Wilson H. Craig Jr. grant and the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation. The grants allowed all the first-grade classes at McFall to purchase several different types of STEM manipulatives and engage students in using creativity, ingenuity and a variety of math, science, engineering and art challenges.

“Thank you so much for buying these,” said Amiyah Hortsman as she finished up her pink and purple starfish. “I like to build with all of these things,” she said. 

All of the first-grade classrooms now have these STEM manipulatives available to use in their classrooms. Seifert said they provide valuable opportunities for students to learn to work together, communicate and explore what they can do. Having these kinds of manipulatives in their hands allows them to learn by doing and seeing their completed projects.

The grant allowed the teachers to purchase magnetic building tiles, Hapisimi interlocking building blocks, straw connectors, Brain Flakes, marble run sets, and a set of gears.

Grace Colavincenzo held up her nearly finished work for the “Thinking Thursday” challenge in Karen Seifert’s first-grade classroom. The challenge this day was to build an animal or their habitat using the STEM manipulatives.  “These are so much fun because you get to make really cool things with them. It’s going to be a spider.”

Students are able to choose whatever they want to work with to build their project. “I like to make flowers and snowflakes. You can really make anything with all these,” said Peighton Mancuso.

Noah Mills said it’s not hard at all to be creative. “I like the tiles best,” said Mills who was obviously proud of his shark and baby shark creations. “I just like making things.”

And that’s the whole purpose of the STEM manipulatives. Seifert said children at this young age should be encouraged to build, create and discover what they can do. It also gives them opportunities to problem-solve. “Things don’t always work the way they want them to, so they have to figure out how to make it work or change their idea,” she said.

Finn Engelbert said he loved the new items because he could create whatever he wants with them. “I can make a dog and a doghouse if I want. I can make a building or a tower or a rocket.”

Audri Timm created a narwhal complete with an orange spike and a penguin looking very dapper in black and white plus-plus blocks. “I like building with the plus-plus blocks. They go together easy and I can make anything I want,” she said. 


Carter Palma said he just starts building and suddenly he’s created something great. “It’s hard sometimes but you just start putting pieces together and see how it fits and then you have something really cool.”