Norwin School District recently hosted a STEM Summit on March 12, 2012. Administrators, educators, and business members were among the 350 people who attended this summit. The purpose was to disseminate knowledge regarding how to promote the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math more effectively in grades K-12.
Dr. Lawrence Mussoline, Superintendent of Downington Area School District and Mr. George Fiore, Headmaster of the Downington STEM Academy were presenters at the event. They shared information regarding the success of their district’s latest venture…the creation of a school that featured “a project-based learning environment in which students are exposed to the kinds of design and implementation practices that scientists and engineers use on a regular basis.” This Academy is one of the only International Baccalaureate World schools and is an “effort-based school that focuses on partnering with the business community to provide a 21st Century education.”
Educators need to become more informed as to the changes that are necessary to meet the needs of the 21st Century students. As Dr. Mussoline stated, the Industrial Age School must end. He referred to this type of school being what we find in many public schools…students still sitting in rows, students being prepared according to schedules, and students listening to lectures rather than being completely absorbed in their education.
Unlike most public high schools, the Downington STEM Academy follows a different schedule each day. Straight rows of desks are forbidden…customized curriculum for students is embraced…all students with C averages or above are welcomed. The district does not support the idea of this Academy being only opened to the elite and brightest students. Rather, the belief is that those students who are motivated to explore, innovate, and create should be admitted.
What is especially surprising is one of the marketing tools used to draw the students into the school. Mr. Fiore stated that whenever he presents to middle school students about entering the STEM Academy, he mentions that they can expect to complete 3 hours of homework every night and receive no credit for it. One would think that would be a statement that would send away students. Rather, the district boasts of how 800 students applied for 400 seats in 2010 and 400 students applied for 200 seats in 2011.
In the case of the Downington STEM Academy, students are pushing the adults in the school to create innovative avenues for their learning. One such example involved allowing students to use markers and write on glass windows and glass doors what they termed as their “collaborative space for ideas”. Whenever one visits this school, they will see these “windows of communication” throughout the school. The students have actually inspired the teachers to use the glass as their means to communicate their thoughts as well.
Education majors and new teachers must begin to learn more about how they are to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math into their classrooms. As mentioned several times at the STEM Summit, teachers should be focused on creating “problem identifiers” among their students as opposed to “problem solvers”. Corporate representatives who attended the summit stressed that they are interested in hiring people who can identify problems that exist. The representatives believed that when there were a number of meetings devoted to problem solving that could mean that the company had more problems than it should.
For more information connected with STEM and the Downington STEM Academy check out the following links:
http://teampa.com/impact/education-workforce-development/past-programs/pa-stem-initiative/ (information regarding the STEM Initiative)
http://dasd-sharepoint.dasd.org/Schools/STEMAcademy/Pages/NEWS.aspx (Downington STEM Academy)
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/alfie-kohn/stem-sell-are-math-science-rea.html (Interesting perspective written by Alfie Kohn, author of books linked with education and human behavior)
http://www.norwinsd.org/domain/1135 (Center for 21st Century Learning at Norwin School District)
Donna Hupe teaches ED 101 – Field Experience I and has been a Pre-Student Teacher/Student Teacher Supervisor at Saint Vincent College for the past five and a half years.