This was a good story I feel like. Part of it was cut because it was just so long. When I first finished it, I think it was 1,400 words. I had a long interview from Mr. Blosser with really good quotes, pretty good interviews with Mr. DeVier-Scott and Mrs. Watson, and also a great interview from G. Anime. That kid is pretty amazing.
This is the full story, without the cuts.
STEM, short for Science Technology Engineering and Math, is a program known worldwide for the areas in which they specialize. The hope for our country in it’s low academic standings, STEM education is established here in the schools of Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County, focused on the integrated, experiential application of the fields to stimulate young minds. The goal is to inspire future adults to choose a science-based career, with escalating tastes of what they will be facing in the real world.
In the Harrisonburg City Schools, Thomas Harrison Middle School and Skyline Middle School both immerse their students in this program. Running these classes are Jon DeVier-Scott at THMS and Patricia Watson at SKMS, but they believe it to be more of a student-lead course.
“I plan the structure of the class… but students are really responsible for their own learning… when there’s a topic students need to learn, I tell them what they need to know and provide them several [sources], but I don’t tell them the answers,” Watson said. “Likewise, with the engineering design challenges, I give them guidelines and criteria of what they have to accomplish, but the way they do that is up to them. Students frequently surprise me with their creative solutions to problems.”
Both the teachers and students at the middle schools enjoy projects including hovercrafts, water filters, lunch boxes, gardening and more.
“STEM allows students to make connections between the science content they are learning,” DeVier-Scott said. “I also think our program [should] be [promoting] independent learners while also learning how to work cooperatively. I just think it is a more real way of learning.”
Each engineering project the students are assigned connects to their current topic in science.
“We really focus on practical application of the knowledge that students normally learn in classes. For every science unit, there is an engineering design challenge that students have to solve using the science and math knowledge and technology skills they learn in class. Students also learn how to use computers and digital technologies to accomplish tasks and problem-solving and teamwork skills they will need in their lives and careers,” Watson said. “Because the STEM program replaces a student’s normal science class, we have to make sure students are prepared for the SOL test, just like other students.”
The letter on the report card is not based on success, though. It’s based on effort.
”[Students’] final product might be a failure, but their grade is based on following the design brief and the effort they put forth. So, the product might be a failure, but the students might still earn an A,” DeVier-Scott said.
These middle school programs lead into the classes at the high school. After evaluations of applications and letters of recommendation, co-directors of the HHS Governor’s STEM Academy, Myron Blosser and Andrew Jackson, send acceptance letters to the new STEM freshman. The students have a choice of two pathways: the Math and Science pathway or the Technology and Engineering pathway.
Freshman Gebrehiwot Anime makes his own portable chargers. After his move from Eritrea, Africa, middle school STEM was slightly difficult. He wasn’t struggling because of the class, but because of the scientific vocabulary, seeing as he was not well-established in the English language. So, Anime would come after school and early some mornings to learn the words. Anime hung on because he was confident in his abilities. Aspiring to be an electrical engineer, he went onto the Technology and Engineering pathway.
“I like high school [STEM more because in middle school] we had only a little bit of time to do science and engineering. Working with electronics, fixing and building them, I like building everything. Experiments and chemicals, I don’t like that, I don’t like science,” Anime said. “When we [worked] with the computers, we just recorded data but here we get to use software to design things so we can see what the things we’re going to build will look like and in another STEM class we learn about the projects we’re going to do, so that helps to get into the project. It makes it easier because you learn about it and in the other class we build it so it doesn’t waste time.”
Freshmen in the Math and Science pathway take Earth Science with freedom in their schedules, giving them the opportunity to participate in other programs like the Fine Arts Academy. Freshmean in the Technology and Engineering pathway have a tighter schedule and take Physics, Engineering 1, and English 9.
“All three of those classes work together so that they all kind of talk and study the same thing. What they learn in Physics they put to use in their Engineering class and the books they read in English have to do with what they are studying in physics and building in Engineering,” Blosser said. “Students that like the design-build idea…the Technology and Engineering pathway appeals much more for them.”
Anime has a passion for engineering. STEM education is here for kids like him.
“Since I started STEM, I just loved it. I like the things we build and learn about so I’d tried to do that too. I had my own ideas at home similar to what we did at school, but a little bit different. [The lessons] helped me make my own projects. They are small, but they are interesting…I wanted to see if I could fix my own problems. I wanted to see if they would work, that’s why I want to be an engineer,” Anime said. “I applied [to the program] because I knew I could do it. Every day I design something. I build it and I’m like that’s who I’m going to be, an engineer. That’s why I’m proud of myself and that’s why I’m taking these engineering classes.”
The STEM academy also has many activities taking place throughout the year. Whether it’s one of their many STEMinars, traveling to Green Bay for their radio telescopes, or venturing to Florida for summer STEM, the students are always active.
“You get to see more than sitting in a class, sitting in a chair,” Blosser said.
With the newest freshman class, the STEM Academy faced a dilemma. There weren’t any girls who transferred into the Technology and Engineering pathway from the middle schools.
“We feel passionately that they belong in STEM and we desperately need female scientists and engineers mathematicians and computer programmers. That is on our agenda, to see if we can encourage ladies coming from the middle school into the high school to consider the Governor’s STEM Academy because we feel we need them in the STEM fields, absolutely,” Blosser said.
STEM education is not only motivating adolescents into taking on specific careers, but aiming to capture and enthrall them in the world of science as well.
“I’m in the science part of STEM…my goal is not only to have students learn about science, but do it and often times in high school,” Blosser said. “That’s my goal in our instruction here at high school…they’re actually learning science by doing it and I think that’s appealing, not only because it’s a fun way to learn, but also genuine way to learn because students really get a good understanding of science and you can apply that to all [subjects].”