Last year, the Medical Lake School District was busy gearing up for its first year heavily immersed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
This summer will be just as busy as the school district moves into the second of its three-year STEM grant from the Department of Defense.
The grant is helping fund a math and study skills class to all incoming eighth-graders and freshmen who might be interested in boosting some of their skills. The hands-on program focuses on developing math skills and placing an emphasis on how it relates to the real world outside of school.
There are also several teachers attending training sessions, like those with the nationally-recognized Project Lead the Way program, which places emphasis on rigor and relevance to help students apply it in real-world scenarios.
In addition to professional development and summer classes, Medical Lake is set to have a busy STEM-related summer. The goal is to have courses available for students of any interest across the board.
“STEM education isn’t just for the people who want to be an engineer, it’s really for everybody,” Medical Lake High School teacher Ann Everett said. “We have to be able to look at our curriculum and adjust it to all learning needs.”
The second year of the grant focuses on continuing the groundwork laid last year. The third, and final, year of the grant will focus on technology, and expanding its influence in the district.
“We’re going to get more and more technology next year,” Everett said.
But, the difficulty of keeping up with technology is something every school district faces. Once the grant ends its run, the real challenge begins in the attempt to keep things up to speed.
“That’s the big challenge for schools,” she said. “It is so hard to keep up with technology.”
At a STEM advisory board meeting, Everett said the subject of keeping up-to-date with the numerous changes in today’s software-driven world came up, and had some staying power.
“The industry people said you can’t. But what you can teach kids to do is to be adaptable enough and to give them enough different types of technology that they learn how to use it,” she said. “So when they’re given new items or new technology, it becomes more intuitive for them to experience the technology because they’ve tried lots of different kinds of technology.”
The conclusion, it turns out, is a pretty simple approach: just let students experience the technology.
“Every kid doesn’t need to have their own iPad, but kids need to experience them and understand how they work, just like they would with a desktop,” Everett said.
Everett said the pursuit of teaching with iPads was largely teacher-driven, and could incorporate apps like Discovery Education to help create an interactive classroom. Hallett Elementary students at a recent school board meeting presented some projects created on an iPad.
“By doing that in a classroom, you’re able to take and teach and have kids that are at all different learning levels,” she said. “You learn to manage your curriculum in a way that addresses all learning levels in your room.”
Formative and cumulative assessments, essentially pre- and end-of-course tests will help determine what level students are at when starting a particular class, helping teachers provide more meaningful instruction throughout the class.
Special education students have been working with iPads for the past three years
“That has been a fabulous opportunity for them as well,” Everett said.
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.