The future is now

stemeducation copyBY ELAINE KLAASSEN

“It’s amazing what you can learn at any age—you just need the right tools,” says Renée Svard, communications director at Our Lady of Peace church and school. She’s referring to a curriculum in place at the school that starts with the 3-year-olds. It’s called STEM and it integrates science, technology, engineering and math.
In STEM education, children use a wide array of materials to discover principles of science, technology, engineering and math. Megan Schuchman, who teaches fourth grade at OLP, says, “Exploring through play is one of the ways kids learn best.”
The teacher’s job, then, according to Dolly Hinze-Kinney, director of early learning at OLP, is to guide the play and pose the “whys, hows,      what ifs and let’s figure it out”       questions.
In the early learning center, the children learn scientific vocabulary from the beginning of their education so that as they progress through the grades they’re not suddenly surprised with those words and concepts. “There’s a flow throughout the school,” says Hinze-Kinney.
The children start with materials like laser pegs (kind of like legos that light up when attached properly), paint and kitchen utensils in preschool and move on to robots in the fourth grade.
At whatever degree is appropriate to their age level, kids work on problems like reconstructing a lost blueprint, or figuring out how to keep food safe and germ-free during its transportation, for example.
Renée Svard believes the way kids experience the world now is seriously different from 50 years ago; that is, their synapses are connected differently because of the digital age. She mentions that today’s kids are known as “Digital Natives.” It’s kind of like “Startrek” has become reality and  therefore they need a new kind of education. She wholeheartedly supports the widespread use of STEM and feels it really speaks to the needs of kids today.
Most of the teachers at OLP have special training in STEM as well as related programs such as Curious Minds. The archdiocese wants all its schools to have STEM.
While STEM is used in many schools throughout the country, it is sometimes offered as an extra-curricular activity or as a special class for a small segment of the students. At OLP, STEM is for everyone, which gives all students a good science foundation. This makes it much easier for girls and children of all ethnicities to have a chance at science careers, where, according to the internet, there are many jobs waiting to be filled.

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