‘Definitely not a fad:’ STEM education connects with Maryville students
By Matthew Stewart | The Daily Times
Maryville’s teachers are working overtime to create the next generation of college- and career-ready students.
“When we talk about STEM, we’re not just talking about science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Assistant Director of Schools Mike Winstead. “We’re talking about critical thinking and reasoning, which are key 21st century skills. We want to teach those skills, and we also want to change student habits.”
The school district employs one full-time STEM teacher at each elementary school and intermediate school, Winstead said. Jill McElroy serves Maryville Junior High School and Maryville High School.
Kindergartners through fourth-graders attend STEM class on a revolving basis, he said. Older students take the class as an elective.
Coulter Grove Intermediate School has enrolled 130 fifth-graders, 152 sixth-graders and 151 seventh-graders, Winstead said. Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School has enrolled 140 fifth-graders, 171 sixth-graders and 184 seventh-graders. School totals, which represent the number of students enrolled in classes for both semesters, don’t reflect the number of unique students.
Maryville Junior High School has enrolled 82 eighth-graders and 85 ninth-graders, he said. Class enrollment is more than 20 percent of each grade level’s population.
Maryville High School is offering two class sections, which serve 39 students, Winstead said. Administrators plan to roll out one additional course per year until the school has a full STEM program.
In addition to overall student enrollment, school officials are pleased with the program’s gender distribution.
Female students constitute about 30 percent of each intermediate school’s program, Winstead said. Females constitute about 19.5 percent of Maryville Junior High School’s eighth grade classes and 10.6 percent of ninth grade classes.
‘Definitely not a fad’
The district’s STEM teachers are reporting promising initial results in their classrooms.
“The kids have really taken to it,” said Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School teacher Jeremy Russell. “Some students who struggle in other areas are doing the best, because it presents the material in different ways and allows them to be more hands-on. I’ve been very pleased with their efforts.”
Students have worked with design and drafting software and completed various projects, he said. They have designed, constructed and raced model cars, worked with robotics and designed roller coasters.
Russell tries to limit the amount of downtime. “I dive in and do it. I try to minimize the amount of time that kids are sitting there. If I show them a PowerPoint presentation, I don’t spend a lot of time on it. I want them to be able to design and do.”
The teacher also tries to create a classroom environment that simulates real workplaces. Students can work with whomever they want and sit wherever they want in the classroom.
“I present them with a problem, and the solution is entirely up to them,” he said. “They constantly blow me away and surprise me with their solutions. Half of the class makes something similar. They look similar and function similar to each other. It’s usually a result of the kids being impressed with something that someone else is doing and deciding to pursue a similar process. However, I always have at least one project that’s completely outside what everybody else did.”
Russell thinks the program’s future is bright. “The program is first-rate, definitely not a fad. It will continue to grow and develop.”
‘Kids love it’
“The kids love it,” said Foothills Elementary School teacher Bartley McMurray. “Kids can’t wait to get into STEM class. They’re dying to get in here.”
Students have built water balloon launchers, made hot air balloons, blown up plastic sandwich bags and constructed towers out of plastic cups for a certain famous movie monster to climb, he said. “While the activities reinforce classroom lessons, they don’t understand that it’s the whole purpose. They just enjoy this fun learning process.”
McMurray tries to create a classroom environment that stresses real-world skills. “For this age group, teamwork is a very important skill. From here to the intermediate schools, junior high school and high school, it’s going to require some form of group work. We remind them and talk about it on a fairly frequent basis. They’re starting to accomplish it, and we’re seeing a lot of growth.”
Students are also taking pride and ownership in their STEM education, he said. “I’m seeing a whole new excitement in their learning. They’re learning things and taking it home to their parents. It’s brought such an excitement and joy to their lives.”