Education

STEM: The hottest new thing in teaching

Friday, August 29, 2008
Bayside Middle School

Schools are using hands-on methods to get kids involved in math, science and more. (KGO Photo)

Most public school kids returned to class this week. Already, one San Mateo school is offering students a new curriculum that will change the way they learn. The hope is that by doing so, test scores will improve. A look at the hottest program in the education world today.

It is called STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It was developed by MIT and today it is used by only a few schools in the nation. San Jose High Academy is one of them and now San Mateo Bayside STEM Academy, a middle school.

Over the summer, teachers had to learn how to take a theory and apply it using a hands-on approach.

"The brain is all about fun. Our brain likes to do things that are fun ,so if you can make learning fun, it sticks with you," said STEM teacher Michael Kidwell.

They learned it at Stanford's new design school (K-12). For example, one group of teachers came up with a story idea where they physically divided the recycled materials from the compost and the stuff which ends up in our landfills. By dividing they are learning about percentages.

Another group of teachers came up with a mock TV series called "Trash Talk." The goal is to teach students the science of composting instead of just reading about it in a book.

Teachers were taught that if students design something involving math, science or engineering, they are forced to think about it, and they will retain it.

Jeanne Elliott, the school's principal, also went through the training process.

"If you teach students how to think and they become faster in math and science, there is research that shows they will do fine on the test," said Elliott.

And that is the goal of the school. Bayside had made little or no progress on the standardized tests scores among its English learners which represent 33 percent of the student population. So under the No Child Left Behind Act, the San Mateo-Redwood City School District was forced to change the school's curriculum. The English learners are expected to benefit the most from the STEM program because it helps build their vocabulary.

"The language is about how you went through all those stages of the process and then you tell the story of what you created and so that builds language," said Elliott.

The curriculum at Bayside will also be more interconnected.

"Now it's more of a tornado because when you are learning about geometry you should really be learning about the Mayan and Meso-American and Egyptian pyramids," said STEM teacher Yogo Sullivan.

The hope is the STEM model will help students improve test scores and prepare them for a world of ever-evolving technology.

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