BERLIN - Prior to any actions taken at their regular meeting on Sept. 25, the Board of Education heard a presentation on a new STEAM course at the middle school.
The Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math program replaces the Tech-Ed program known as “shop” at McGee Middle School, explained Principal Salvatore Urso while presenting it to the board.
“This is brand new for us,” said Urso. “We’re trying to get kids excited and learn how to code and program and do some of the digital artwork.”
The new program is divided into a sixth-grade class and seventh- and eighth-grade class, said Urso, and instructs on each of the five disciplines. The program is taught by two converted science teachers, Jason Rosa and Janice Carpenter, with help from curriculum author Heidi H. Jacobs.
Students in the course learn programming and coding with an emphasis on the principles of design, said Rosa.
The program already has had students learn to build a spaghetti structure with a marshmallow on top using only tape; construct “Mars rover bots” from battery powered engines for model airplanes and a mixture of junk to draw circles; and build robots to be controlled remotely or autonomously.
“For the students, it was this transformative process where the students thought this wasn’t something I thought I could do, because I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Rosa. “But because I stuck to it, because I kept trying, because I wasn’t afraid of failure, because I wasn’t afraid of my design not working and starting again, everybody was able to get to the end.”
“Already within a very short time they’ve built perseverance and they’ve also done very well with learning how to read directions,” said Carpenter, who will receive help on how to teach the course from her two children who are also STEAM teachers.
Seventh- and eighth- graders have begun drawing 2-D blueprints of their homes with drafting tools and using mathematical calculations and converting them to 3D images before printing 3D models of them.
Sixth-graders also have begun coding video games using Pixel and Scratch programming, which was designed by MIT for middle and high school students.
“I liked always seeing how games were made and always wanted to program myself,” said Elijah Burgos after presenting with Brandon Garrity their video games to the board, adding the class has added more interest in STEAM for him.
“STEAM really opened up my mind for coding, because beforehand I thought video game, controller, it works,” said Garrity. “But now since I see the coding behind it…now I respect them a lot more than I did, this is really making it more exciting for learning about STEAM”
“I’m very impressed,” said Dr. Kari Sassu, Board of Education secretary.
“I’m impressed with how far you’ve taken this because as a board we made this decision through the budget process,” Tencza said to the Rosa and Capenter, while also commending the students’ presentation. “I can’t speak for all of the board but I’m sure that we were all wondering how this was going to roll out and you guys have done a very good job, considering where you are, only one month into the school year.”
Urso said the plan is to give each grade their own class next year.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.