STEM program

DeSoto County educators, including Pleasant Hill Elementary School Principal Jamie Loper and Olive Branch High School instructor Shannon Rawson (center) work together to build a tower of plastic forks. The exercise aided in learning a strategy of working cooperatively during a conference on teaching science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects to students.  

Making the school subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics interesting and fun to young minds is, in most cases, a daunting challenge.

But, after a recent conference where about 130 educators, including K-12 teachers, administrators and district office staff people from DeSoto County Schools (DCS) and area schools as far away as Tupelo converged on the Career Tech Center-West campus in Horn Lake, the challenge should not be as stifling to teach.

Instructors expect the new strategies learned at the day-long session hosted by DCS and presented by Discovery Education, an arm of the Discovery Channel, will help them teach what is commonly called the STEM curriculum more effectively and excite more youngsters to look at affiliated careers in the subjects.

At the same time, other areas of classwork, such as language arts, can use STEM to help youngsters learn more in those areas.

As society moves more closely into a science-technology culture where STEM skills become more necessary, DCS Curriculum Coordinator Stephanie Stewart said most instructors want to know how best to inspire their youngsters toward science, math and technology, but lack the skills to make it happen.

“They’re here learning today about how they can bring this information into their classrooms or how they can bring this into their schools,” Stewart said. “They’re learning about the research and what they say out there about the best way to incorporate this, the myths of what STEM is and what STEM is not and how you can really draw the uniqueness out of our students to engage them in the disciplines that we are teaching.”

Instead of flooding the classroom with fact, figures and formulas, Dr. Robert Corbin, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, who is also Director of Global Initiatives for Discovery Education and the main presenter for the conference, believed DCS is tackling an important issue for today’s schooling in an aggressive, yet creative way.

“We need to understand that STEM is a culture,” Corbin said. “It’s a really imperative crisis that we are facing in this country and I congratulate DeSoto County Schools for actually having the foresight to think about how they get teachers engaged.”

Corbin gave those attending, who were seated in team tables, several questions or projects to cooperatively solve, such as trying to build the tallest self-standing tower made completely of plastic forks. Through the exercises, strategies were also provided on specific areas of STEM education and how to teach them to students.

STEM today is not an overwhelming subject for youngsters, regardless of the age, Corbin said, adding today’s children are ready to tackle the subjects.

“The things that we see kids and girls solve with respect to grand engineering challenges in the world are mind boggling,” Corbin said. “They can solve the world’s most vexing problems, they really can.”

Stewart said another reason for the session was to start instructors adjusting to new science teaching standards on the horizon.

“We know that our science standards are being modified in the next school year, so we are approaching a time period where we are going to alter the way we look at science, so this is really a first taste, a teaser to grab people in to be more interested and motivated to incorporating these skills to their classrooms,” Stewart said, adding several teachers in DCS already think “outside the box” in teaching these skills.

One DCS school that has been thinking outside the box is at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Olive Branch, where Principal Jamie Loper said her teachers have married science and math with language arts and history.

“Some of the things we already try to do in some of our classrooms are where they integrate language with the math and the science and the history and just pulling it all together to big picture, the why,” Loper said. “Our whole third grade goes to the beach and they are looking for the different animals and they can incorporate that into science, they can incorporate math involved in that, they can write about that experience. It’s just taking those experiences and incorporating them back into the curriculum where they fit.”

Loper added that most youngsters have a strong idea by sixth grade of what they want to do with their future and it’s during her youngsters’ years in elementary school they make those determinations.

The session was provided free of charge at no cost to DeSoto County Schools, which hosted the event.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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