An overview of a new initiative emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the four Wilkes County middle schools was given during the Wilkes school board meeting Monday afternoon.
“STEM Investigations” will be among exploratory class offerings in all three grades of the Wilkes middle schools starting in August 2014, said Anna Lankford, assistant superintendent for the Wilkes schools.
It will also increasingly be part of science, math and language arts classes, said Mrs. Lankford.
Exploratory courses now available to Wilkes middle school students each semester are band, chorus, art, computer skills/business, exploring technology, physical education and health.
STEM education strives to integrate science, technology, engineering and math in hands-on, collaborative learning while emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving, she said. It’s been identified as essential to college and career success and to producing the workforce needed for U.S. competitiveness in a global economy.
Mrs. Lankford said Wilkes school officials want to increase STEM literacy of all middle schools students, not just those who might attend a four-year university or career techeducation students..
She said ACT scores have increased in schools that have used the STEM Academy curriculum, which is the STEM curriculum chosen for the Wilkes middle schools.
The curriculum, designed for use by teachers of all core subjects, is divided into:
• “discovering STEM” for sixth-graders, with one activity from each STEM area, “hands-on, minds-on learning” and flexibility for teachers in delivery and material choice. Potential unit topics include manufacturing a product, discovering architecture, properties of flight, discovering sketching and drafting, lighter than air vehicles and introductory and advanced robotics.
• “designing STEM for seventh-graders, with an introduction to tools of design and power solving. Potential unit topics include problem solving techniques and applications, defining problems, determining and defining criteria, developing ideas, creating solutions, testing and evaluating presentation;
• “investigating STEM skills for eighth graders, with integrating design skills and introductory STEM concepts from the courses in sixth and seventh grades. Activities will highlight the three primary elements of manufacturing: tools, materials and process, Potential unit topics include include robotics, materials science, packaging design, underwater sea perch challenges, environmental engineering, sustainable energy and mechanical engineering.
School board member Sharron Huffman asked if seventh and eighth graders would start the program next year, even though they won’t have had the sixth grade portion of the curriculum.
Mrs. Lankford said they would, but seventh and eighth-grade teachers would have access to the materials for sixth-graders when it’s needed. The curriculum is accessible through any Web-enabled device and is based on national standards with correlation to North Carolina’s common core curriculum.
With a $20,000 “jump start” grant from STEM Academy, all Wilkes middle school career tech education, math and science teachers will receive STEM education training June 9, 10 and 11 to implement the program.
The STEM Academy is also providing the Wilkes school with STEM Investigations learning labs.
Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation recently awarded a $194,500 grant to the Wilkes schools to implement STEM Investigations in the four middle schools.
She said Wilkes Community College has been an active partner in the STEM initiative. Through this partnership, said Mrs. Lankford, Duke Energy is donating $25,000 to purchase interactive Smart boards for each Wilkes middle schools.
Digital Learning Grant
In another matter, Mrs. Lankford said the Wilkes schools received a $37,022 “digital learning” grant from the N.C General Assembly based on enrollment and an additional $69,062 grant later from the legislature for digital content or professional development.
None of the funds can go for computers or computer equipment, she said, adding that it all must be spent in the 2013-14 school year. She said the funds were used to buy licensing for “Discovery Education Streaming Plus” instructional videos for all Wilkes schools that don’t already have this and also for school staff professional development by working with Discovery Education and SchoolNet.