MMS students bring learning to life in new STEM class
Education and world leaders agree that a strong foundation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, is essential for students to be prepared to live and work in the 21st century. Integrated, interdisciplinary STEM education cohesively blends the four disciplines to teach students to apply principles of math and science and the use of technology to the development of innovative solutions to real life problems. Through STEM, students learn to think critically and to become effective problem solvers - essential skills in today’s global society.
Hands-on, inquiry driven STEM education provides opportunities for students, to solve authentic real-world problems; to learn to collaborate effectively; and to evaluate evidence while potentially paving the way for their future pursuit of STEM professions. With job growth in the STEM fields projected to continue its upward trajectory, a dedicated STEM educational program plays an increasingly important role in introducing students to future career possibilities. This is especially important during the middle school years, when students begin seriously considering their future education and career goals.
Yet despite its importance, many schools do not offer comprehensive, dedicated STEM programs.
“Although science and math classes are taught at all grade levels, district-wide, and technology has been infused throughout the curriculum - and though the district continues to improve articulation between grades, schools and across the curriculum - in the absence of a dedicated, integrated STEM program, students can have trouble comprehending the connections that exist between the subject areas,” said Point Pleasant Borough Schools’ Director of Curriculum & Instruction Susan Ladd, Ed.D. “This, coupled with the subjective nature of the STEM disciplines, can make learning these concepts challenging for some students.
“STEM programs provide an interdisciplinary and applied approach to education that help students develop skills and proficiencies in these areas while helping foster an understanding of the connection between the subjects and their real-world applications,” she said.
Dr. Ladd said a successful STEM program is one that transforms abstract concepts into tangible experiences, one, like Memorial Middle School’s STEM class, a new seventh grade related arts class, developed by Dr. Ladd, Point Pleasant Borough School District Supervisor of Math & Science Jennifer Riback and classroom teachers, Mr. Vincent Stasio and Mrs. Kortney Gordon. The STEM class was introduced at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
The class, currently taught by Mr. Vincent Stasio, introduces students to the STEM fields and associated careers and uses project-based experiments, with materials like LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Education, to teach students problem solving, creative thinking, how to collaborate with others to come up with solutions, and how to communicate with one another.
“LEGO Mindstorms is a programmable robotics construction set that allows students to build and program their own robots,” said Mr. Stasio. “After learning the basics of robotics, students work collaboratively to design and build a robot prototype using LEGO Mindstorms innovative programming software and LEGO construction blocks.”
Mr. Stasio said the students use Mindstorms modular sensors, which detect things like color, touch, and motion, to program their robots to perform specific tasks, while investigating scientific principles, including motion, velocity, acceleration, forces, and energy throughout the process.
“LEGO is the perfect medium to teach the more abstract STEM concepts,” said Mr. Stasio. “Most students are already familiar with LEGO products, Mindstorms takes that familiarity and experience and uses it to introduce something new, while providing valuable hands-on, project-based educational experience in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Mr. Stasio’s inaugural STEM class unveiled their robots at a special demo held at the school Nov. 4, where the teams, comprised of three students each, showed off their creations to members of school- and central- administration and their peers, who ranked the design and function of their classmates’ robots.
“Mr. Stasio told us that he would consider it a success if one of our robots worked,” said Holly Canales, who debuted her robot, Olaf, which she built with teammates Ryan Ehrmann and Kirra Norling. “But all of them worked!”
Holly, Ryan and Kirra, all age 12, shared coding and building duties to program Olaf to broadcast a few bars of the Star Wars theme song and when prompted say, “Hi, my name is Olaf. Let me show you some of my moves,” before proceeding to spin around.
Although always a fan of science, Holly admits before STEM class, she didn’t have much experience with coding, and was surprised by how much she enjoyed it, “It was great to learn what we could do with the program.
“It was incredible to see our work come to life,” she said, adding that each student included his or her own personal touches in their robot’s design and/or program.
“We were able to use our other knowledge to influence our design,” said Ryan, who contributed his piano-playing skills, to program Olaf with the Star Wars theme.
Unfortunately, those personal touches will make the disassembly of the robots - scheduled for next week – much more difficult.
“I’ve become attached to Olaf,” said Holly. “I don’t want to disassemble him.”
Though deconstructing her robot is bound to be bittersweet, it does not affect how Holly views her STEM class experience, she said, “I love STEM class. I wish it was offered every year – not just seventh grade.”
Holly’s wish may eventually come true, according to Point Pleasant Borough School District Supervisor of Math & Science Jennifer Riback, who said expanding STEM opportunities is a district priority.
“STEM education is a major focus of the Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS], which the district is currently working toward implementing, ” she said. “The NGSS align with the Common Core State Standards in both Math and English language arts to support an integrated approach to STEM teaching and learning.
“The NGSS elevate the role of the sciences and engineering in the core curriculum,” Ms. Riback said. “As the shift to the new standards continues, students will see increased articulation between the STEM fields, which will enhance and fortify higher order thinking skills and strategies, ultimately helping them become more successful across the disciplines.”