If your second- or third-grader wants to be an astronaut or computer programmer, their school wants to begin preparing them for that career early.
Starting this fall, students in Clark-Pleasant elementary schools will go to a STEM-based lab once a week. The lab will join their class rotation with gym, art or music class.
Center Grove elementary students will take field trips to the district’s new innovation center, where instead of simply reading about the “Three Little Pigs,” they will figure out why their houses fell down.
The two school districts have expanded their Project Lead the Way initiatives that put an emphasis on STEM-based learning. Project Lead the Way is a national program that offers school curriculum, activities and project-based programs that have a STEM focus.
Other school districts also are looking to possibly expand their STEM-based curriculum. Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson officials are in the beginning stages of researching how they can incorporate more STEM-based lessons, in addition to what high school students have access to at the Central Nine Career Center, Assistant Superintendent Andy Cline said.
“(We need) opportunities for the students in a changing career world,” he said.
Both Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools already have the Project Lead the Way program at the high school level and are now expanding them to include younger students.
At Center Grove middle schools, new textbooks will include more STEM-based content. And at Clark-Pleasant, a new STEM-based course is being added for eighth-graders.
Offering those opportunities to younger students allows them to explore subjects they may be interested in earlier and is another way to integrate subjects and help students make the connection between what they learn in class and the real world, educators said.
“Research is pretty clear, if kids can’t connect it to something long-term, they won’t take it as seriously,” said Cameron Rains, Clark-Pleasant schools assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Next school year, all Clark-Pleasant elementary schools will get a STEM lab, created from lessons and equipment from Project Lead the Way. Students can work on STEM-based concepts, such as building a robot, and each class will go at least once a week. Students as young as second grade will learn computer coding, and most grades will learn how to build and work on robots, Rains said.
“It’s stuff kids enjoy and applicable,” he said.
At Center Grove, elementary school students will take field trips to the school district’s new innovation lab, a former maintenance building behind Center Grove High School that is being renovated to create a collaborative space and labs for students to conduct experiments, said Jack Parker, director of teaching and learning.
Students will talk about a subject in their classroom and then apply it in the innovation lab. For example, students would read a book in class and then explore science or technology themes in the book in the innovation lab, he said.
Adopting STEM-based curriculum and projects at younger ages gives schools the ability to integrate subjects together, such as science and literature, he said.
The success of high school programs and a push from community members and business leaders have led school officials to look at how they can use STEM-based lessons and projects with their students earlier, Rains and Parker said. The skills that students learn, such as problem solving and integrating skills, will be needed throughout their life, they said.
“These types of skills are those that students need when they graduate from high school or college, even,” Parker said.