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STEM Education Gathers STE(A)M

By Ms. Abby Giroux, Corpus Christi Middle School Math & Science Teacher

STEM education is understood in education circles to refer to Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics education. At the 2013 Regional Science Olympiad Tournament at Grand Valley State University, one of the program speakers suggested adding an ‘A’ for the Arts. This idea really struck a chord because at Corpus Christi Catholic School in 6th, 7th & 8th grade we work really hard to integrate Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math in service and project oriented learning.  

Science: From our pond-focused ecology studies to crime scene investigation simulations, students at CCCS explore how the world around them works in their science classes. As a Catholic school, we also make a point to filter our science learning through the 7 Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Many of today’s public policies and political issues have science and moral concepts at their core. In an effort to prepare students to be informed, active, voting members of society, we stress the importance of studying the facts behind any story and critically interpreting information before forming an opinion.     

Integrate ecology with technology and Catholic Social Teaching and you get events like the electronics recycling drives hosted at Corpus Christi and all school clean-up days. These service learning opportunities give students a chance to actively serve our local community while learning about the impact of human technologies and waste on the environment. They also expose students to the possibility of creative solutions that can enhance life on Earth.            

Technology
: As we move forward into the future of education, we are working to integrate more and more meaningful and effective technology tools into our learning at Corpus Christi. We have been blessed with a computer lab and wireless system update, and we are beginning to work to integrate iPads into classrooms. We continue to plan for the possibility of getting technology into the hands of all of our learners. Even something as simple as a set of 10 graphing calculators and 10 GPS units in the middle school has altered the way we teach and learn.     

In a world of rapid technology advancement, it is becoming harder and harder to take time to slow down, focus, process logically, remember facts, connect with others, and even enjoy the outdoors. Thanks to a special technology grant last year, we were able to begin designing a program that uses technology to do all of these things using handheld GPS units. With a set of 10 GPS units, teachers are able to set various waypoints, around the school grounds and then pair up students to go locate boxes hidden at these locations. Once students are familiar with locating and even setting their own waypoint the handheld GPS units become an interactive scavenger hunt tool. Waypoints are moved and marked with boxes that contain review questions, or interactive activities for students to complete. Students cannot move on to the next station until they correctly complete the work at the station they start at. As students explore the outdoors and get some exercise they are able to review coursework, interact and problem solve with friends, and hopefully building life-long habits of critical thinking and outdoor adventure.           

Engineering: Participation in both Elementary and Middle School Science Olympiad Events, and partnerships with community organizations bring real-world engineering tasks to the students at Corpus Christi Catholic School. This spring, the CCCS 8th grade students worked with the Silversides Museum in Muskegon to design and build underwater remotely operated vehicles. In March of 2013 our 6th, 7th, & 8th grade Science Olympiad team won the most improved award at the regional tournament at Grand Valley State University. For the competition, the team built a Rube Goldberg machine, a rotor-egg drop device, a xylophone and pan flute, a mousetrap vehicle, and a helicopter. They also entered events to test their knowledge of astronomy, anatomy, forestry, experimental design, crime scene investigation and technical writing. In April, the middle school students lead the CCCS elementary students in their own Science Olympiad events. Students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade worked with their middle school leaders to: build bridges, barges, towers, sail boats and egg drop containers, they also got to try making tracks, practice technical writing, and make sound observations. Events like these are only possible with support from the community. We are so thankful for the coaches and grants that make ROV programs and Science Olympiad competitions possible!                  

Arts:
From Band and Art classes to Drama productions, there are numerous “Arts” opportunities at Corpus Christi. For this article we will focus on just a few of the cross-curricular programming and field trips we offer to our 5th through 8th grade students.      Art Prize in Grand Rapids has caught the world’s attention! The Grand Rapids Diocesan Offices have made a special effort to coordinate student days during Art Prize for students to participate in the excitement. Students are invited to view the artwork on display at Cathedral Square AND also meet some of the artists. For two years now, Corpus Christi teachers have taken students to Grand Rapids to view the artwork at Cathedral Square, meet artists, and find inspiration for our own learning “arts” projects back at school. Two years ago students created their own crayon wall hanging, geometric “stained glass,” a geometric ribbon hanging, and “listening words drawings” inspired by worked view at Art Prize. This year, Corpus Christi teachers and students organized a school-wide recycled t-shirt art piece inspired by Art Prize.     

Each year the middle school teaching team selects a theme and topic to explore across the entire core curriculum taught at Corpus Christi. These projects begin with an art project, incorporate numerous research and writing assignments, and end with a field trip and a final student created product. In the 2012-2013 school year, the CCCS middle school theme was “World Cultures” and the cross curricular project was focused on study of the Holocaust. Students researched contributions to math and science by people from numerous world cultures, watched some informational movies about the Holocaust, studied important historical events, read related literature, painted “friendship bowls,” and explored how modern technology is being used to assist families of Holocaust victims. The unit culminated with a trip to the Holocaust Memorial in Detroit and the CCCS Middle School students creating their own Holocaust memorial quilt for display here at our school.      Each year Corpus Christi Catholic School middle school students also participate in two large performance-based projects that tie in a broad spectrum of learning: Science Day & Law Day.     

Science Day is a partnership with St Mary School in Spring Lake where middle school students get together to present to each other their science learning from the previous year. Presentations are based on research, lab work and historical developments and take the form of art-work, creative writing, displays, models, and public speaking. The day also incorporates presentations from community members that work in various science fields also and focus on how a well-rounded education is necessary for success in science related jobs.     

Law Day is a national program that combines history, language arts skills and the study of the U.S. legal system in a student conducted courtroom trial. CCCS middle school students are presented with a case to study and research. They are divided into prosecution and defense teams, assigned roles and asked to prepare to try their case in front of judge. Then, during Law Week students travel to a courthouse and try their case in an actual court of law in front of a real judge. Students work with community lawyers to prepare their case. The authentic writing and public speaking skills developed through this program are simply astounding! We have also begun to build a partnership with the students from St. Mary School in Spring Lake and look forward to the day that we are able to put our skills to the test by challenging their team of student lawyers in a courtroom mock-trial.            

Mathematics:
Math education is more than just facts and memorizations. Although a strong foundation of math facts and number sense is fundamental to math success, they are no good without the ability to apply math to daily life. Family Math Nights, Math Projects, Math Clubs, Math Centers and technology in the math classroom bring real-world applications of mathematics to students. Incorporation of formulas and “math work” in applicable science classes is fundamental in helping students see the interconnectedness of the world around them and also understand how what they learn in school can and will benefit them outside the 4 walls of their classroom. We have tried to integrate new and innovative projects and programs with our math curriculum at CCCS. MAPS testing allows us to monitor fundamental student progress and growth while professional development and collaboration with colleagues allow staff members to design new exciting math based projects to enhance math literacy in CCCS students!     

We take great pride in the ‘out of the box” learning projects detailed above. We enjoy offering hands-on, authentic learning tools to our students. We have been greatly blessed at Corpus Christi Catholic School with benefactors and Eagle Scouts that have helped us develop an outdoor learning space around our campus retention pond. We look forward to taking our students out of the 4 walls of our classrooms to enhance their learning, but we couldn’t do it without the support and help of community members like you.