STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has become one of the most important focuses of education. According to former president Barack Obama, science is “more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world.”
Schools are responding to this need by equipping students with the know-how to be leaders and problem solvers.
“We are, as it is often said, educating students for jobs that do not yet exist,” says Barbara Lyons, a teacher at Wilton High School’s Library Learning Commons in Wilton. “It is essential we provide them with the skills needed to think critically, solve problems, create solutions, and collaborate in our global society.”
To meet these needs, Wilton High School has rebranded its library as the “Library Learning Commons” (LLC). These spaces allow students to create content and products and access information. In Wilton, students can go to the “garage” (the library’s innovation center) to work with arts and crafts, recycled materials, and more.
“Our inclusive space and curated resources support students and teachers as thinkers and creators, as inquirers and collaborators, and enable them to explore and engage in content and issues important to their growth and learning,” Lyons explains.
To enable students to have a better handle on troubleshooting problems and designing, Wilton High School acquired a 3D printer.
“Students have printed drones, chess pieces, replacement hardware, and various models which are visual representations of their inquiry projects,” Lyons explains. “We also have basic circuitry and a 360-degree camera to support student creation.”
According to Lyons, students love the collaborative workspaces that include whiteboards for brainstorming and charging stations for personal devices.
Tina Henckel, assistant director of STEM programs for Shelton public schools, notes that STEM occupations are growing at a fast rate compared to other careers, and it’s Shelton’s responsibility as a school district to respond.
To ensure students are prepared for the workforce, Shelton administrators are working with local businesses and the community.
“We’re having frequent conversations and seeking feedback from leaders in the STEM industry, gathering data and learning from them to better provide curriculum and programs that are better aligned with career paths,” says Henckel.
Like Wilton, Shelton is transitioning all its libraries to a Library Learning Commons model. Curriculum also incorporates more STEM education. Shelton elementary schools are focusing on coding and maker space areas to spark creativity and innovation.
Through Milestone C, various STEM courses are offered for Shelton High School students, including an after-school aeronautical engineering program in which students build and fly drones. This spring, students can partake in a Future Aviators program, and there will be a new aviation course in the fall.
Narmer Bazile, a freshman at Shelton High School, has participated in a summer program through Milestone C, is on the robotics team, and has taken several STEM classes.
“It gives you the tools to be curious and rationally explore and explain the world around you,” Bazile comments. “Once you start looking into how the world works, you start to appreciate the complexities of nature and your very existence.”
Since there are many different aspects to STEM, Bazile suggests students give these programs a try to find an area that appeals to them.
The New Canaan school district has hosted Tech Night at New Canaan High School for more than 10 years. This year, however, the event had a new name: “Innovation Night.”
“Students’ relationship with technology has changed in a very fundamental way,” explains Matt Salvestrini, director of digital learning for the New Canaan public schools. “As a result, we saw that the event has evolved past simply an evening where students showcase technology into an event where students are showcasing how they have used technology in innovative and interesting ways to address needs that they see in their world.”
According to Salvestrini, Innovation Night allows students to showcase learning they’re passionate about and pursue in or outside of school. Projects include wearable technology, bicycle-powered generators, student-coded computer games, and homemade robots.
“Bringing students together in this venue also creates an opportunity for students to share ideas with each other, build new connections and to get constructive feedback from guests on their hard work,” Salvestrini says.
The need for innovation, science, and technology skills is going to become ever more in demand. With area schools’ commitment to promoting STEM programs, the future is in good hands.
“Our goal is to raise students who are well-equipped with the technical skills and knowledge to address real-world issues, while also being creative and flexible enough to look for non- traditional ways to solve problems,” Salvestrini concludes.