FAIRMONT– As Fairmont area schools begin the 2022-2023 school year, they do so with a revised STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum.
The updated curriculum is intended to extend STEM instruction to younger grades and improve continuity between grades and subjects.
Kim Niss, director of curriculum, instruction and research at Fairmont, led the committee that worked on the updated curriculum over the summer.
“It’s like a ladder; we’re going up the rungs of the ladder and we’re making sure that what’s happening in sixth grade leads right into seventh grade and extends it.” Niss said.
Updated curriculum solidifies technology and engineering as core subjects students will learn throughout their education, starting with technology activities in early childhood and continuing with advanced career and technical education (CTE) courses in high school . This should ensure that students are better prepared when starting new courses and improve learning outcomes across all STEM fields.
While the committee made significant changes to the technology and engineering components of STEM, science and math instruction will remain largely unchanged.
“We are the supporting cast for the central areas”, said Bob Bonin, a high school teacher who sat on the committee.
Once they enter third grade, students will participate in STEM activities that are taught on a specialty rotation similar to art or gym classes. These activities are designed to familiarize students with the engineering and design process, as well as open-ended problem solving in groups. Last year this programming was only available to 5th and 6th grade students.
During a typical STEM program, students are introduced to new concepts in technology and engineering and must use them to come up with a solution to a particular challenge.
For example, in one activity, students were tasked with developing and building a miniature sled with limited materials that could carry small packages down a slope without spilling them. In this activity, students would apply their knowledge of friction and motion while using a design framework that could then be used in higher level engineering courses.
“Everything they are doing is very deliberate and aligns with the learning intentions we have for our students,” Niss said.
Open-ended activities like these also allow students to come up with different solutions. In the activity above, one group of students created a sled with a smooth, saucer-like bottom to reduce friction, while another group used runners to improve stability.
This year, the 7th grade technology course is being revised and is becoming a semester-long STEM course that expands on what students learned in elementary school. The course will focus primarily on coding and engineering design. Students will work with 3D printing, robotics, and programming to complete a variety of engineering and technology projects. Previously this course would have included some basic technology education such as typing techniques and general proficiency, but these skills are now being developed in the lower grades.
In grade 8, students take another STEM course that introduces them to some techniques used in the manufacturing and construction trades. In this course, students will work on projects such as bridge design, compressed gas-powered automobile manufacturing, and possibly virtual welding experimentation.
This eighth grade course is also supplemented by a nine-week career course that will help students decide on a future career and related major for the STEM courses they would take in high school.
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