Science, technology, engineering and mathematics have always been a parts of students’ curriculum.
But in recent years, districts have moved to combine the four disciplines into one, often referred to as STEM, which teaches a “philosophy of interdisciplinary nature,” said Amy Meyer, STEM director for the Shoreham-Wading River School District.
“Now more than ever we’re taking a cluster of skills and knowledge for our students and focusing on providing our students with meaningful experiences,” she said.
Ms. Meyer is the district’s first STEM director, a position she’s held for four years. The Riverhead Central School District has recently followed suit, hiring Kathleen Scholand in August as its first STEM director.
The establishment of this integrated curriculum has enabled both districts to launch numerous new academic opportunities.
This year, for example, Riverhead students in grades 6 to 8 were able to partner with Brookhaven National Laboratory to learn about scientific computing.
“The plan is, as those students work up to the next year, we’ll have new students we introduce to the program and those students that were in the program can advance and eventually, when they work into the high school, we can offer some research projects connected with Brookhaven National Lab,” Ms. Scholand said.
Additionally, elementary students in Riverhead will get the chance to start working with robots as early as kindergarten. Ozobots — tiny robots, about the size of golf balls, that introduce students to programming by allowing them to direct the machines’ movements and actions — arrived at the schools just days ago.
At Shoreham-Wading River, the focus on robotics is also expanding. In November, the high school created a competitive robotics team, which has 16 members so far.
The club is an expansion of a robotics program that’s already been part of the curriculum for seventh- and eighth-grade curriculum for a few years, Ms. Meyer said.
Both directors emphasized the importance of these growing STEM programs, which began expanding even before either of them was hired.
“My favorite tidbit of information out there is that of students in kindergarten classrooms today, the majority will be in careers that haven’t even been invented yet,” Ms. Meyer said. “Working in STEM, students learn to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers. We don’t know what jobs to prepare them for because everything is changing at such a fast rate. But we can provide them with opportunities in STEM to gain the knowledge and skills to apply to a problem they’re going to solve in their post-secondary life.”
Other STEM offerings include a high school science research class, an annual STEM Symposium — during which students show off their creations and knowledge gained throughout the school year — as well as hands-on learning in elementary classes at Shoreham Wading River.
Riverhead also offers a competitive high school robotics club, block coding robots, breakout boxes, coding classes at the elementary level, science computing classes, research classes and more.
“You have to view it through the lens of a transition,” Ms. Scholand said. “We’ve had math as a standalone program, science as a standalone, the industrial technology as a standalone. And little by little, there have been components of integration in the sense of programs that are provided after school as extracurricular. Even in terms of internal changes for academic programming. For example, principles of engineering [is now taught] at the high school.”
Both districts also offer an after-school club called WISE — Women in Science and Engineering — for high school girls. The club is run in conjunction with Stony Brook University and, in a feature Ms. Meyer called “inspirational,” partners students with college faculty who work in STEM and who mentor them as they prepare to pursue further education and careers in STEM.
Both directors said the WISE club is important because it helps young girls become comfortable in a traditionally male-dominated field.
“It’s a way for young women to begin to find their niche,” Ms. Scholand said. “That idea of beginning at a young age to introduce girls in a very comfortable setting to open up their vision of how they can be part of STEM is huge.”
Photo caption: Students participate in the Hour of Code at Pulaski Street School earlier this school year. (Credit: Courtesy photo)