by Dr. Ellin Booras
When planning for new course offerings and electives at SHS and the STEM Academy, we have thought deeply about how to further develop the Sandwich Public Schools as a STEM district, PreK-12. The STEM Academy has expanded the acronym of STEM from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to the more inclusive: “Strategies That Engage Minds.” We have been ready to embrace STEM, and benefit because our inclusive STEM initiative has been built on the principles of Inquiry, principles that are the foundation of the workshop teaching we have implemented in our literacy instruction, K-8, as part of the Lesley University Literacy Collaborative.
STEM education isn’t just one thing- it’s a range of strategies that help students apply concepts and skills from different disciplines to solve problems.
STEM is a mindset and permeates all aspects of all academic disciplines
It does not replace state standards nor provide a quick fix. Rather STEM education is an approach to learning that removes the traditional barriers separating the four major disciplines and integrates them into real world rigorous relevant learning experiences for students.
The groundwork for STEM was laid in 1983 with the report Nation At Risk. One can still hear the quote from 30 years ago.” our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors in the world”. That was the same report that referred to American public education as a rising tide of mediocrity.
In 1990’s, the National Science Foundation presented the concepts and pillars that serve as the foundation of STEM. In 2005, Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat proliferated troubling data about this country’s loss of a critical mass of students engaged in higher level thinking and meaningful problem solving.
The Sandwich Schools are at a turning point. We know that STEM based education is thriving in our STEM Academy. We know that the careful and thoughtful building of our STEM Academy reflects evidence based research on best practice. We are confident that the same clear vision and collaborative design will infuse our pre K-2 and 3-6 schools, and we are excited about the wonderful work of our colleagues.
Our task is not to get STEM students ready for the high school, but rather to get Sandwich High School ready for STEM educated learners. Our moral imperative is to deliver what students and families need and want and to provide a seamless six year experience characterized by student engagement in rigorous and relevant teaching and learning. The journey is ongoing and never stops.
Inclusive STEM high schools demonstrate that success in STEM is within reach of all students- provided the right supports are in place. These schools are designed to develop students STEM expertise rather than to select students already identified as gifted and talented or as high achieving in STEM. This is key to what and how we organize teaching and learning.
Currently, in Sandwich STEM Academy, 100% of grade 7 and grade 8 students are enrolled in Engineering.
We want to offer the same inclusive opportunities at the high school. We are not content with the following current national data that reveals that only 39% undergrads in STEM majors are female while 62% undergrads in STEM majors are male. The news is more bleak in high schools throughout the country where 13% of students enrolled in high schools without an inclusive approach, are female. 45% of students enrolled in high schools without an inclusive approach are male. We are eager to follow the lead taken in Sandwich where 100% of our middle school students are in STEM based Engineering courses.
What makes STEM schools successful?
- STEM focused curriculum
- Reform based instruction
- Integrated and innovative technology use
- Blended learning opportunities
- Real world application
- Early college connections
- Well trained staff
- Inclusive mission
- Supportive administration
- Differentiated instruction focused on providing success for ALL students
Our department chairs have been working as a team with Gil to learn the language of STEM, to understand change theory and its applications to school reform, and to contemporize our program offerings. To that end, we present our proposed changes in the 2015-2016 Program of Studies. Please view the Powerpoint presented at the December 3rd School Committee meeting here: 2015-2016 Program of Studies Presentation. We are proud and excited about our new offerings, many inspired by student requests, and have now increased the number of STEM Elective choices to 19 electives, reflecting opportunities in all disciplines. You can view the course descriptions for the new offerings here: Program of Studies Proposal 2015-2016 with course descriptions