By Megan Myers
Beginning this summer, the Winfield School District will be bringing more STEM education into the classroom.
This year’s summer school program, called “Summer Journeys,” will present kindergarten through eighth-grade students with challenges that expand their understanding of the principals of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The curriculum, offered by Catapult Learning, will feature many hands-on activities, including designing storm shelters and rockets. The company will provide summer school teachers with all the materials needed to complete the activities.
Superintendant Nancy Baker said the purpose of bringing STEM learning into schools is to make math and science more fun and engaging for students, and to teach them to think outside the box.
“We want students to think critically,” Baker said. “All of us learn much more by doing and discovering ourselves than by someone showing us how to do it.
“Our goal is for our students to ask themselves the questions: why something doesn’t work and what do I need to do to make it work?”
STEM education also better prepares students for the workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Education, jobs requiring STEM education are growing at nearly twice the rate of jobs in other fields.
Still, the U.S lags behind in math and science education, ranking 29th and 22nd, respectively, among other industrialized countries.
Winfield High School science teacher Diana Lehmkuhl said developing students’ critical thinking skills is the only way to prepare them to take on a greater role on these areas in the future.
“We have to teach them how to problem-solve, because we don’t yet know what problems they will face,” she said.
An educator for nearly 20 years, Lehmkuhl said her classes have always incorporated STEM.
“Children learn from play,” she said. “You give them a real-life problem ad make it fun, and they get so into it.”
As an example of the kind of multi-disciplinary learning that STEM embodies, Lehmkuhl cited a recent assignment that her robotics club completed, in which they had to build a small-scale robotic loading turntable for a GM plant.
The students not only designed and built their loading devices, they also had to write and submit bits for their creations.
“It was a real-life situation. They’re not just getting the engineering skills, they’re learning public speaking and presentation skills, too,” she said.
“They’re never done. Even when something works, they’re being challenged to ask themselves: ‘How can I make this better?’ “
The Summer Journeys program will begin on May 31 and will be offered from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. through the end of June. Students will still have language arts courses in the mornings, with accelerated STEM courses in the afternoons.
Baker said summer school is “just the start” of the district’s efforts to bring more STEM learning into classes. Next year, Winfield will try to build STEM activities into the curriculum year-round.
Winfield Primary School will also be holding a STEM kickoff day on March 31 this year, during which students will get an introduction to computer coding and other math and science activities.
Besides kindergarteners through eighth-graders, the program will also be open to children entering kndergarten next fall.
“They get to actually practice for a month what going to school looks like,” Baker said. “They learn classroom expectations, meet new friends, ride the bus and hopefully have a great summer experience, so when school starts in August, they have already learned what a day is like in their classroom.”
This will also be the first summer that the schools will offer a new incentives program for attendance. Prizes will be given out daily through a drawing, and at the end of the program, gift cards ranging from $50 to $100 will go to students who missed the least hours of summer school.
Transportation to and from summer school will be offered for all students. Through a state grant called the Seamless Summer Program, breakfast and lunch will available at the schools free of charge to all children in the community, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in summer school.
Baker said that so far, about 100 students are signed up for summer school this year. She hopes that all students enrolled in regular school will attend.
“The kids are excited about this,” she said. “This is the way to the future.”