Schools pioneer new STEM certifications

IDAHO FALLS — Fourth-grade teacher Judy Bloom delivers math lessons in the dark.

Well, mostly.

A projector displaying math problems and two black lights near the back of Bloom’s classroom at Temple View Elementary School give students just enough light to participate. Instead of using pencils, kids do their math with highlighters. Ultraviolet rays from the black lights set their work aglow in bright pinks, oranges and yellows.

“Highlighter math” is a nifty way to blend science and math to engage students, Temple View educators say. It’s also part of the school’s quest to become Idaho’s first fully certified STEM elementary school.

The Idaho STEM Action Center recently recognized Temple View as one of four schools to achieve full STEM certification through AdvancED, a Tempe, Ariz.-based school accrediting nonprofit.

Other schools include:

  • Bingham Academy, a charter high school in Blackfoot.
  • Galileo STEM Academy, a K-8 school in the West Ada School District.
  • Barbara Morgan STEM Academy, an elementary school in the West Ada School District.

“It took tremendous effort for them to get to this point, and we are proud of all four schools for putting in the work to make it happen,” said John McFarlane, the Idaho STEM Action Center’s AdanceED review coordinator.

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Why STEM?

The STEM Action Center, created by the 2015 Legislature, and AdvancED certifications are part of a state-led push to strengthen Idaho’s STEM career pipeline as a conduit between education and jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

It’s a pipeline in need of continued strengthening. The Idaho Statesman recently reported that some 7,000 Idaho STEM jobs went unfilled in 2017, doubling the number from 2016. From 2014 to 2024, the Department of Labor projects STEM jobs will increase by over 23 percent. From 2004 to 2014, they increased by 14 percent.

Educators at the schools say AdvancED’s 11 STEM certification standards are well-fitted to helping Idaho close the gap.

“I whole-heartedly believe in them,” Temple View principal Sarah Childers said.

‘They all work as a team’

AdvacneED STEM standards include ongoing professional development for teachers and community partnerships with STEM businesses or other “industry partners.” Student-learning standards range from real-world learning emphases and self-directed research to learning through technology and collaborative problem solving.

The emphasis on collaborative problem solving at Temple View starts the moment kids walk through the door.

Temple View Elementary’s weekly school collaboration station.

Childers pointed to a whiteboard near Temple View’s main entrance. Each week, a new research question awaits students, who work together to find answers. Last week, students probed STEM skills possessed by veterans, then wrote their responses on the board.

“(Veterans) all work as a team,” Nelson Room wrote.

“They support each other,” wrote another student.

Teamwork, a central part of STEM education, resonates with Temple View students, who enjoy preferential seating aimed at facilitating a heavy dose of group assignments.

The idea is to let students sit in a location that they feel is most beneficial to their learning, from beanbags or pillows to stools or desks to the floor.

First-grader Jasmine Martinez prefers a desk because she likes to write down her ideas during activities. There’s no need for paper, Martinez says, since her teacher lets students write on desks with dry-erase markers.

“It gives me more room to erase and start over,” Martinez said.

‘Anything is STEM’

Further down the hall, in a science lab, lies a clump of blue ball-shaped robots, each named Dash. Developed by Silicon Valley-based education startup Wonder Works, each robot sports a video camera, responds to voice commands, navigates objects, sings and dances.

The robots provide Temple View students with more opportunities to complete assignments spanning multiple subjects. They blend robotics with music by using an iPad to make Dash strike notes on a mini xylophone to create melodies.

Temple View Elementary School students enjoy preferential seating.

Blending disciplines like music, robotics, science and math is key to effective STEM learning, said Bingham Academy principal Mark Fisk.

“It should be interdisciplinary enough that if you walk in on a STEM lesson, you have a hard time pinpointing which subject is being taught,” he said.

For Childers, STEM is more than just an acronym.

“It’s a philosophy,” she said. “Anything is STEM.”

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