McDermott: New school boasts curriculum for the future

Published 5:56 am Monday, October 15, 2012

Jean McDermott

I.J. Holton School Principal

Austin Public Schools will be opening a new school in August 2013 that will house all fifth- and sixth-grade public school students from the Austin area. This new school, IJ Holton Intermediate School, will have a STEAM focus. What is STEAM and why is it important that we provide a STEAM focused education for our young students now?

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The global economy has “flattened” the world in terms of skills and technology. A new workforce of problem-solvers, innovators, and inventors who are self-reliant and able to think logically is one of the foundations that drive innovative capacity. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics are the curricular focus of STEAM schools. As we move deeper into the 21st century, the workplace, school, and daily life are becoming increasingly more technological. Labor experts predict that within the next decade and beyond, the U.S. economy will call for millions of new professionals in the STEAM disciplines.

Most humans spend more than 95 percent of their time interacting with technology. Pencils, chairs, water filters, toothbrushes, cell phones, and buildings are all technologies — solutions designed by engineers to fulfill human needs or wants. To understand the world we live in, it is vital that we foster engineering and technological literacy among all people, even young children! Fortunately, children are born engineers — they are fascinated with building, with taking things apart, and with how things work. By teaching and learning with a STEAM focus, we are able to harness children’s natural curiosity to promote the learning of engineering and technology concepts.

There are many reasons to introduce children to a STEAM focused environment at an early age. Children are fascinated with building and with taking things apart to see how they work. By encouraging these explorations at the intermediate school level, we can keep these interests alive. Describing their activities as “engineering” when they are engaged in the natural design process can help them develop positive associations with engineering, and increase their desire to pursue such activities in the future.

Engineering projects integrate other disciplines. Engaging students in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can enliven math, science, the arts, and other content areas and motivate students to learn math, science and arts concepts by illustrating relevant applications. Learning about engineering will increase students’ awareness of and access to scientific and technical careers. The number of American citizens pursuing engineering is decreasing. Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable students, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science, math, and arts courses in high school.

Our students need to compete in a dynamic, global economy and a STEAM school is ideally suited to the demands of equipping students with skills that are not confined and isolated within one discipline and further engaging them in contemporary problem-based education. STEAM schools using a curriculum involving life, environment, science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math increasingly makes sense in the 21st century.

—Sources: Joey Page, Richfield STEM School; Engineering is Elementary, Museum of Science, Boston.