November 29, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 32

STEM expands student opportunities in ML

The Medical Lake School District continues to enjoy the early months of its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) grant awarded in June earlier this year.

Last week’s article focused on the programs being offered at the district’s elementary schools. This week’s article takes a look at how STEM principles integrate in the regular classroom.

While the after-school events at the elementary schools have taken off in popularity, the real effect of the grant can be felt in the classrooms. Teachers are able to apply elements of STEM throughout their lesson plan which blended with the programs after school, combine into a regular exposure to STEM-related material.

It really turns interesting when students are able to see the connection between a math lesson and science, for example.

“We’re doing science in math, math in science,” teacher Lisa Wagner said.

As one of the secondary STEM coaches, she’s been working with students and teachers to facilitate integration of some components into the curriculum.

“Just today, I’ve had several teachers who said ‘I’m doing this unit, is there something I can do to tweak it,’” Wagner said. “It’s really exciting. It’s a totally new role for me because I’ve been a science teacher for 20 years. So this role of helping teachers, it’s exciting for me.”

Students at the high school have been involved in helping the elementary schools with the after-school events, working in something of a mentoring capacity to the younger students.

“You could tell the parents really liked that possibility of mentoring between the high school and elementary students,” teacher Marci Dayton said.

It’s written as part of the grant to provide students with mentors.

“Part of the grant is that there will be a mentorship provided to our military elementary students,” high school teacher Ann Everett said. “So we’ve taken the leadership class and divided them in half. Half that are military will go on base, because they can easily get on base, and the other half will go to Hallett.”

That part of the program, Everett said, will likely be running at full speed toward the end of this year, after Christmas.

An independent evaluator takes a look at the information from the program, looking at how it’s being implemented and what programs are taking place. Les Portner from Eastern Washington University has been observing the integrity of the program, in accordance with the Department of Defense guidelines.

In addition to the classroom lessons, an emphasis on robotics has been placed at both the high school and middle school. Last year, the middle school received a grant to help fund its after school program, which saw a huge swell of popularity. The high school followed soon after.

“We have industry partners who come in and work with the kids along with the two engineering teachers that are in the classroom with them,” Everett said. “So there’s awesome opportunity for the high school as we move forward with the robotics part of the curriculum.”

While it provides an activity for students after school, working with the robotics group has allowed students with a common interest to come together. Without the equipment and guidance provided by the high school, such a group likely wouldn’t exist.

“It gives our kids a home. Everybody can find a niche, and this is a great niche for kids to be (in) and develop,” Everett said.

When all of the components are added, the STEM programs in Medical Lake have the ability not only to educate, but to entertain. It not only benefits the students, but the teachers and parents as well.

“It is so neat when kids are thrilled and having fun and learning,” Everett said.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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