STEM! It’s not just for High School Kids

Initiatives designed to bolster interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), particularly at the elementary education level, are gaining state and national attention. Then too, there is much more to science and mathematics than solving plain equations, or working in a lab. Traditional mindset tends to isolate these elements into individualized compartments mitigating the ability to think outside the box. In reality, STEM based subjects share an integral connection, and require high level thinking skills. While STEM may not be everyone’s calling, interest and aptitude can be inculcated through rigorous, streamlined programs that create excitement and passion for STEM.

A key component in establishing a firm base is starting at the basics. Mary Vaujin LeDoux, principal of Brooksville Elementary School says establishing a STEM base starts at the elementary level. LeDoux has taken a leading role in implementing curriculum that creates excitement and interest in STEM. She says she has a goal for the school, to be “a leader in using cutting-edge technologies” in Hernando County. The school is well on its way to accomplishing that goal. Brooksville Elementary School (BES) of Global Studies located in Brooksville, Florida is considered an “A” grade school, and is one of the largest elementary schools in Hernando County.

As a technology leader, BES has already positioned itself as a center of excellence in STEM education. The school has the highest FCAT scores in science among Title I schools, and
Mary Vaujin LeDoux, Principal of BES & Anna Speessen
(Teacher at BES)
is at par with Challenger, a magnet school for math and science in Hernando county. Furthermore, the school’s science, engineering and math clubs offered to students as after school programs have sharpened students’ interest in STEM related subjects. Indeed, what sets BES apart from other elementary schools are high expectations combined with rigorous curriculum, and strong focus on building integral relationships with students. LeDoux who is known in the county for being an effective instructional leader describes the curriculum and instruction as “infused with technology.” As part of a countywide initiative to accelerate and enhance technology based education, BES has a coach to oversee its STEM programs/curriculum. Adoption of the Students Understanding Mathematics and Science curriculum, designed by the Northeast Florida Education Consortium, has further strengthened the school’s emphasis on “inquiry versus instructional based learning.”

In all of this, teachers play a pivotal role in generating interest in STEM. Projects like the gulf oil spill clean- up project initiated by Anna Speessen, one of the STEM teachers and a technology ambassador at BES, have served as an effective tool in creating a “hook” and cultivating inquiry based learning. The project required students to create oil collecting instruments, learn about the environmental/ecological impact of an oil spill, and the technology and tools involved in such an undertaking. LeDoux says “elementary kids generally want to be part of such activities, but rarely have these kinds of opportunities,” hence it is important to include them in STEM based activities.

Partnering with high-tech organizations like FLATE is yet another opportunity that has yielded tremendous benefits. The STEM workshop for teachers offered by FLATE in summer 2010 was critical in educating/bringing awareness about FLATE’s STEM based curriculum and resources to BES. LeDoux notes there is a need to spread the word about FLATE’s curriculum to other schools so they take advantage of the STEM resources FLATE offers. “We’ve always been an “A” grade school, but my job isn’t done till all the kids in Hernando County regardless of their backgrounds have the same level of access to resources, have the same level of exposure, and are performing at the same level” LeDoux said.

For more information on BES and an in-depth look at its STEM programs stay tuned for a sequel to this article in the next edition of the Focus. You can also visit www.hcsb.k12.fl.us/bes. For information on FLATE, and its K-14 STEM curriculum contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit http://www.fl-ate.org/.