Winners in STEM excellence

Schools from Collier County Public (Florida), McHenry School District 15 (Illinois) and Anglophone East School District Hillsborough (New Brunswick, Canada) take top honors

During FETC®’s final keynote session, three schools were named winners in the FETC STEM Excellence Awards program. Sponsored by State Farm, the program recognizes excellence and innovation in the field of STEM education at the primary, middle and high school levels. Seven STEM experts served as judges in the competition, and the following schools earned top honors.

Elementary level: Golden Gate Elementary School, Collier County Public Schools (Florida)

GGE implements the Leader in Me program, a whole-school transformation model based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The program provides a framework of goal setting that empowers students through leadership and life skills—which complements the STEAM philosophy of starting early and fostering a love of learning in each grade level.

STEAM challenge opportunities are incorporated into each grade-level curriculum for grades K-5. All teachers receive a full day of hands-on professional development in their interdisciplinary STEAM curriculum, customized to fully integrate specific grade-level standards.

A student and family collaboration project is the STEAM Starter Take Home Challenges, for which students and families are given a STEAM-related project to complete as a family at home. Projects get put on display during one of the monthly STEAM learning events, which students help promote by creating videos posted on the school’s social media platforms. Examples of STEAM Starter Challenges include: a recycling fashion show, music instrument models, Arctic ecosystem dioramas, and a carnival game creation.

Genius Hour gives students time to investigate a passion project. Students go through a series of steps to see if they are able to identify a solution to a question they have posed or a problem they have identified. Students complete at least one project within the Genius Hour curriculum, but have the opportunity to investigate additional questions and topics as time allows.

The two finalists were Fayette County Public Schools in Kentucky and iBuild Academy, part of Volusia County Schools in Florida.

Middle school level: Parkland Middle School, McHenry School District 15 (Illinois)

Parkland Middle School gives students access to Innovation Centers, STEM Labs and STEAM Studios that are truly eye-catching. These collaborative spaces offer sequential K-8 cross-curricular opportunities, combining the goal to maintain and enrich the district’s core curriculum, allow innovation, and provide project-based exploration. Curriculum is differentiated using multiplatform tools and manipulatives. With over 350 Learning Launchers in more than 60 content areas, students explore a wide range of projects and challenge levels.

Whether students are working through various experiments and formulating inquiries using the new NGSS Science Standards or developing strategies for taking action and preparing for a lifetime of civic engagement using the new Social Science Standards and ELA Standards, they are collaborating through project-based, hands-on, minds-on exploration and learning to think and ask questions for themselves. Additionally, Parkland’s newly adopted math curriculum offers STEM-based problems in each math lesson so students can draw connections to real-life mathematical situations.

Real-world project-based activities in STEM include developing 3D models and architectural structures, designing next-generation vehicles, and discovering new forms of fuel efficiency to benefit communities and the global environment. Grading strategies are designed to provide immediate and motivating feedback, rather than punitive grading systems that penalize risk-taking. Students are allowed to model their thinking by explaining, discussing and questioning every task or project they do collaboratively. Students are now working with architects on designing a new 9-12 STEM Center.

High school level: Caledonia Regional High School, Anglophone East School District Hillsborough (New Brunswick, Canada)

Caledonia Regional is a rural grades 6 through 12 school offering full French immersion programming. Every student enrolls in the school’s nationally recognized STEM program.

“STEMpathy” programming represents the two most important skills with which students can graduate. The school’s motto is: “The world has enough flashlight apps!” STEM experiences are enriched with an empathy focus.

Caledonia Regional was the first school in Canada to have a K-12 Dronography (Academic Drone Applications) program. Students use drones to survey flood damage, practice first-aid delivery during mock disasters, and inspect structural integrity. It was the first Canadian school to have its own Microsoft HoloLens, which was used when technology and skilled trades students collaborated to design and sell New Brunswick’s first K-12 Tiny House. STEM program students also created the first iOS apps in eastern Canada. The world has enough flashlight apps, so these students focused on apps to support inclusion and “New-Comers” to Canada.

Other finalists were Fort Pierce Westwood Academy from Saint Lucie Public Schools in Florida and Salamanca High School of Salamanca City School District in New York.

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of DA.

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