STEM at Oak Meadow

Posted: December 6, 2013

This morning, Middle School Math Teacher Barbara Orlowitz and Middle School Science Teacher Kirsten Wright presented on STEM at Oak Meadow. Click here for a link to their PowerPoint presentation, and read on for more information about the STEM initiative at Oak Meadow.

Over the past several years, the acronym STEM has begun to infiltrate all things education reform. STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is actually an initiative that began centuries ago, and some might argue it began with Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, an esteemed Swiss educator who believed that science education, in particular, should be based around hands-on, experiential learning and experimentation. Sound familiar? It should. Oak Meadow’s teachers have been using this mode of education through the Montessori Method for years. Recently, however, with the boom of STEM and STEM-related jobs, educators around the country are looking at ways to enhance lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math, by creating projects that incorporate all four fields.

While STEM has been a rather new buzz word in the news media, Oak Meadow Middle School Science Teacher Kirsten Wright and Math Teacher Barbara Orlowitz have been implementing STEM related labs into their classrooms for the past four years through their science and math labs for six through eighth graders. One recent afternoon, Wright had her students using their cell phone cameras to take a photo through a microscope of water droplets taken from a variety of local ponds. Students used the magnified photos first in science class to analyze aquatic invertebrates. Later, they brought their photos and microscopes to Catherine Karp’s art class to create scientific drawings. “The way things have been taught in the past,” said Wright, “may lead students to believe that science is hard and only certain people can understand it, but through STEM lessons students realize that they not only understand science, but also have fun with it.”

Another recent project challenged students to recreate the 2010 BP oil spill. Students researched the technology that created the spill, discovered the problems that may have occurred, and used the scientific method and mathematical modeling to theorize about what would happen to wildlife over time. “The STEM initiative really fosters innovation, collaboration, and creative thinking,” said Orlowitz. “These are the qualities with which we want our students
to leave Oak Meadow.”

As their labs and projects continue to grow, Wright and Orlowitz have seen such a transformation in the way students are learning about science, technology, engineering, and math, that the two have decided to earn their STEM Certification to help implement a more comprehensive STEM initiative for all program levels at Oak Meadow. Through the Christa McAuliffe Center for Education and Teaching Excellence at Framingham State University, Wright and Orlowitz are attending classes and webinars, and will receive their Curriculum Authoring and Certification in STEM by next spring. The certification program is a partnership between Framingham State University and PTC Creativity Lab, a “philanthropic education program” whose goal, according to its website, is to provide “K-12 educators integrated STEM curriculum, instructional toolkits, and world class engineering software.”

The partnership between STEM-related companies and universities is one that is growing across the nation in an effort to improve the way through which K-12 students learn, and one that will hopefully make a lasting impression. This year, Wright and Orlowitz are running a STEM Professional Learning Community (PLC) during Wednesday early dismissal professional development time for faculty and staff. Within the PLC is representation from all program levels, as well as art, technology, and physical education, which allows the group to work together to develop STEM activities that can be experienced by all students within the Oak Meadow community. In addition, Wright and Orlowitz have an ongoing forum through which to share information from their certification program.

“It’s not about finding the right answers,” said Orlowitz. “It’s about the process of design and trying to creatively and collaboratively wrestle through tough questions that connect what we learn in the classroom to the real world.” Giving students the skills to believe in themselves and their own abilities is key to the STEM initiative. Because the STEM initiative has been met with such success at the higher grade levels at Oak Meadow, Wright is collaborating with teachers in the Children’s House and Elementary programs to help them implement STEM lessons in their own classrooms. “From the time students walk through the door in Children’s House they are inherently scientists,” said Wright. “So much of the world is a new experience and adventure for them. Young children naturally have the need to know and explore. They are problem solvers, innovators, and scientists from birth. Oak Meadow’s evolving STEM program is just one way that we continue to feed the child’s desire to learn, and nurture the capabilities in each and every student.”

–Arielle Driscoll

Last Updated: December 6, 2013