Carmel Clay Schools is replacing its weekly computer special for elementary students with a STEM class designed to inspire the district’s youngest learners to become innovators.
STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, aims to teach students how to integrate the disciplines through hands-on problem solving.
“We study math in a silo or science in a silo, but out in the real world it’s integrated,” said Rhonda Peterson, CCS director of curriculum. “We’re creating this problem-based learning environment for students where they see how mathematics is applied to the real world.”
Peterson said the STEM special will teach some of the same skills and concepts learned in computer class, but that student needs and knowledge have changed in recent years.
“When the computer lab special was created there was a different need at the time. We weren’t a 1-to-1 district (with students having their own device), and students were learning how to use a device and use computer applications,” Peterson said. “Now that we are a 1-to-1 district, students are carrying a device with them all day long, so it’s just part of what they do.”
Students will work together to solve problems during STEM class. In a third-grade module, for example, students will explore a scenario about rescuing a trapped tiger at the zoo using simple machines such as a wheel and axle, lever and inclined plane.
Kristine Amick will be the first STEM teacher at Clay Center Elementary, a new campus opening its doors for the 2021-22 school year. She said she is eager to use the school’s flexible spaces in the new building as students work together to explore STEM principles.
“They’ll get to find their spark, what motivates them and what is something they’d like to investigate further,” Amick said.
Jay Vahle, a CCS teacher since 1993, has long been an advocate of STEM education. He will be the first STEM teacher at Woodbrook Elementary.
“Having an opportunity for kids to see the STEM environment on a regular basis really allows us to push forward-thinking ahead and let them be excited about what their future might be,” Vahle said.
CCS elementary schools are using STEM curriculum from Indianapolis-based Project Lead the Way, which creates programming used in Carmel middle schools and Carmel High School.
“We feel we’re coming full circle in completing that K-12 spectrum of science and engineering,” Peterson said. “We’ve been partners with (PLTW) for a long time, so we’re excited to offer it to our youngest learners.”