Science and math are important topics at Frisco Elementary. The school took its dedication to these subjects, including engineering and technology, to an even higher level recently when the board of education approved its designation as a STEM school.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Its programs focus on project-based implementation of these topics. Getting the designation of a STEM school means that teachers will incorporate STEM aspects into daily lesson plans, rather than as one-time or after-school activities.
"I believe that by incorporating that into the school day, ... our students would leave the school prepared," said Frisco Elementary principal Renea Hill.
Hill has been working toward this designation for the past several years. Frisco Elementary hosts its very own STEM lab, with shiny stainless steel tables, where students can perform experiments and learn about science and the other topics in a hands-on way. The school has a STEM committee made up of teachers and parents. Many Frisco teachers have gone through various levels of training as well.
"We wanted to make our school progressive and to help kids become more critical thinkers, collaborative communicators, something that was going to help kids prepare for their futures," Hill said.
The idea of incorporating the STEM program into everyday programs is to integrate the four topics into singular projects. Rather than separating the topics and spending half an hour on math, then half an hour on science, the program combines them into a project that requires students to use both simultaneously.
Hill used bridges as an example. STEM students studying bridges would incorporate science (testing hypotheses) and engineering and mathematics (determining angles, weight capacity, etc.) to design a project with hands-on materials, which they would then have to present.
"That's really how your life, your job is," she said. "When you're working on a project for a job, it's all of those skills rolled into one, so you have to know how to pull in the science and math and the technology and probably even some engineering into your plan and your design, to probably take the whole project through from beginning to end. That's what we want to prepare our kids for."
The STEM designation does not interfere with the International Baccalaureate program, of which all Summit public schools are a part. It complements it, in fact, according to the program representatives who visited the school in October.
"They were very excited about it. They thought it was a perfect marriage, the perfect blend," Hill said.
The next step in fully implementing the program is teacher development and training, Hill explained. For this, she has applied for a local grant. Even if the grant doesn't come through, the STEM integration will still happen, although the time line may be longer.
"We're really trying to get our program off the ground and I would really like to get the teachers the training they need and the support," Hill said. "It's a great opportunity and a great chance for us to start something."