Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools plan to expand STEM education

In second place at 36 seconds, Connor Downing and Zachary Bresnick. — Photo courtesy of Natalie Munn

Martha’s Vineyard Public School administrators want to expand and integrate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines in the standard K-12 curriculum. On Dec. 10, Yvonne Spicer of the National Center for Technology Literacy spoke with Island educators about the Gateway Project, an initiative created to help school districts develop and implement personalized STEM curricula.

Currently, subjects such as science and math are taught in isolation. The thought behind the Gateway Project is to provide an opportunity for students to learn STEM in an integrated manner. The project helps school districts develop a strategic plan to incorporate technology and engineering programs in K-12 education.

“While most people spend 95 percent of their time interacting with the technologies of the human-made world, few people know these products are made through engineering, the essential link that connects science and math with innovation,” Ms. Spicer said.

The conversation is timely. In January, the Massachusetts Department of Education (MassEDU) is expected to decide whether or not to adopt new standards for science, technology, and engineering in state schools; standards now in effect have not been updated since 2006. Overall, the revised standards are expected to emphasize the understanding and application of concepts, integrate the ideas and practices of science and technology/engineering disciplines, track progressions of those ideas from kindergarten through 12th grade, and coordinate English language arts and mathematics standards more cohesively, according to MassEDU.

If adopted, the revised framework will be released in early 2016, but the former standards will continue to be assessed on state testing for a period of time under the transition. Each school district will be accountable for planning its own transition to the revised standards, with some support from the state.

The Island has a head start. Martha’s Vineyard Public School staff members have been working to create opportunities for students in the STEM field for a number of years. At the high school, students are given the opportunity to compete in an afterschool Engineering Challenge competition, in which they work as engineers to complete a design challenge. In November, the challenge was to create a “grocery grabber,” defined by high school science teacher Natalie Munn as a “two-foot grabber that could reach small food items that were either high on a shelf or far across a table.” The students were given 45 minutes, and the group that completed the task fastest was named the winner.

The high school has also focused on integrating art and STEM, in a program called STEAM.

“While we have appreciated the efforts of our staff to provide opportunities for our children and young adults, it is exciting to think that we can move beyond a collection of activities and strategies to an even greater opportunity to create a top-notch program that emphasizes a consistent awareness and incorporation of STEM,” Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools, said in a press release. “If we can galvanize this potential, we can create a vision for a foundation that will allow for a sustainable and transforming STEM program for all of our children and young adults through all grade levels.”