Lancer Letter – STEM

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

Two weeks ago I wrote about a trend in education known as “personalized learning.” This week I am writing about another trend you likely have heard about: STEM or STEAM.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. When the A is used, it stands for Arts.

Most people realize that science and math have been part of school curricula for decades. Technology has been in our schools since the mid-eighties and engineering courses have been part of technology education classes since the 90s. So what’s the big deal? Is this a familiar product in new wrappings? Partly.

The new emphasis on STEM has come from a number of sources. First, our nation’s industries are having trouble finding qualified American engineers. Engineering is a tough major and many American students don’t want to put in the work. The idea is to involve students in these activities closely related to engineering so they will develop an interest and desire to become engaged in a STEM career. Secondly, as business and industry has automated so many menial tasks, the requisite skills for the work force has increasingly become problem solving, design, creativity and innovation. That is why the arts have been added to many STEM activities as the arts lend naturally to creativity and design as well as problem solving.

The emphasis on STEAM is not on the individual elements. To have strong STEAM programs, though, each discipline must have a strong curriculum. Schools without rigorous and quality programs in science, math, and the arts, will struggle with STEAM activities. The difference is in the combination of all of the elements, the use of science, math, technology, engineering and the arts in the application of designing and producing a product.

One of the prime examples of this is an activity called RoboBOTS. This event is sponsored by the Northwest PA chapter of the National Tool and Machining Association. Teams from throughout northwest PA, spend the school year conceiving, designing and building a remotely controlled robot that conforms to prescribed specifications of weight, size, etc. The robot is to have a “weapon” and on April 1 this year, teams will convene at Meadville high school to battle each other. Creating a device such as this requires students to pull together their knowledge of STEM courses and apply them to the project. We have a high school team advised by Nick Basko and a middle school team advised by Bill Moats.

The RoboBOTS teams meet throughout the year after school to plan, design and build their robot. Many hours go into planning, building and failing at attempts to make it all work. Problem solving is in high demand, even on the day of the event as the RoboBots go to their “pit” with the students to make repairs following difficult matches.

As great as the RoboBOT program is, it is a small proportion of the student body which is involved. The STEM movement attempts to apply programs like this, though much less intense, to broader curriculum applications, reaching more students.

An offshoot of the STEM movement is what is being called MakerSpaces or Fab Labs. These are areas in a school that gives students an unstructured environment to create and design their own inventions. A MakerSpace may contain both high tech and no-tech items. On the technology side, there may be a computer, 3-D printer, drones and any other number of new devices coming on the scene. On the no-tech side, there may be hand tools, scissors, glue, construction paper, buttons and just about any other item imaginable. The idea with these labs is to foster innovation, creativity, design and problem solving by encouraging students to use whatever is available to create an invention. You may have seen in the paper that we have MakerSpaces at the elementary school with one in development at the middle school.

I believe that General McLane has very strong programs in math, science, technology and the arts. We will continue to work to create opportunities to apply what students have learned in these courses in a way that simulates the reality of real world applications of these disciplines.

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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