A School to Follow In STEAM Education: Sharpsville Middle School

A School To Watch

Over the past three years, Sharpsville Middle School in Sharpsville Pennsylvania, led by Principal Heidi Marshall, has made STEAM education a top priority. In doing so, they have gone from “school to watch” to “school to follow.” The school became a Woz ED Pathway School last year after implementing Woz ED curriculum in subject areas such as Drones, Robotics, Engineering Design, Animation, and AR/VR. This middle school, made up of 240 students spanning 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, has become a model for other schools in surrounding areas at all levels as they have continued to find innovative ways to incorporate STEAM in and out of the classroom.

On any given day, you can find students in the common areas tinkering with drones or coding robots. Students are always excited to use their hands and learn new concepts, so much so that many general education teachers, like Peyton Schell, are weaving STEM into their schedules as an incentive for students. Not only is building drones and programming robots a fun reward for student participation, but it allows them to think differently, and, often, expands their ability to solve problems, communicate, and analyze material.

Like many schools pioneering the way in STEM Education, it has been, and continues to be, a learning process for Sharpsville Middle School’s leadership team, board, teachers and students alike. They are chugging along, trying different approaches, and expanding programs with the ultimate goal of giving each student access to technological resources so that they can explore future opportunities.

The Process of Implementing STEM

Principal Heidi Marshall has been a staple in the Sharpsville community her entire life. She grew up there, taught within the district for 20 years, and worked in administration as a middle school principal for 10 years. To say she has a passion for her job and her community would be an understatement. When she became principal, just after COVID 19 settled down, she made it a goal to give her students access to the same resources as Sharpsville’s wealthier counterparts.

The way forward was through a network called “Schools to Watch,” a group of stand-out schools in Pennsylvania that were doing big things and gaining notoriety. When Marshall set out to revamp Sharpsville’s STEAM curriculum, this is where she went. From there, she was connected to Woz ED team member, Jim Klubek, and attended a Woz ED showcase at Salamanca High School in New York. This showcase was a breakthrough for her, as it was for many attendees, not only because of the incredible things students were doing with technology, but also because Salamanca is not an affluent area with many resources afforded to it. Marshall tells me that this event gave her hope because the school fell in the same budgetary range as Sharpsville. She saw that it was possible to obtain resources without having an endless supply of funding at hand. 

Utilizing Esser Funding (Pennsylvania’s COVID relief offering to schools) Marshall prioritized STEM education and purchased her first Woz ED Pathways-Animation and AR/VR. The school has now been using Woz ED kits for three years and it has proven the perfect fit. Students love the subject material, teachers love the accessibility of lesson planning and technology training, and administrators are happy to see a thriving ecosystem of continuous learning and growth. A few months ago, Sharpsville hosted an event at which students presented their Spheros robots and drones to the Sharpsville School Board. The board loved it and the school is now gearing up to purchase a few more pathways. 

What Does STEM Education Look Like Right Now?

The intensive STEM course at Sharpsville is offered as an elective taught by Abby Ainsley and Nanci Dickson and is called “Tech Exploratory.” This is where many of the Woz ED STEM kits are used. Ainsley and Dickson also like to incorporate technology to other subject material that students are learning at a given time like creating historical settings using AR technology or learning language arts concepts through coding.

It’s incredible what links teachers are able to make using technology, plus it offers an innovative approach to learning. One project, in which students used AR technology to build their own houses based upon the cultures of various countries, was deemed a student favorite across the board. Using AR layering, students modeled the interiors and exteriors of their homes after reading about ancient Chinese architecture.

In addition to this, students are exposed to STEM within their mathematics block period. With Mr. Schell, for example, students often get time to use drones, robots, and other technology. Within the classroom, teachers might use drones to demonstrate physics concepts or use coding to syndicate addition and subtraction. Sharpsville students also get to use other technological resources within the classroom to learn throughout the week like Spheros Robotics and Lego STEM Sets.

Looking ahead, Marshall tells me that Sharpsville aims to expand the school’s STEAM program so that each student has an opportunity to learn STEAM concepts on a more regular basis. They are well on their way. It comes as no surprise that the principal of Sharpsville Elementary School, Jon Fry, just purchased his first Woz ED Pathway. Sharpsville Middle School has served as a best practice for other schools in the district at various levels. That domino effect that seems to be a staple aspect of STEAM education is definitely at play here.

A Brighter Time

Heidi Marshall “keeps it real,” as the kids like to say these days. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on many schools across the nation, Sharpsville included. Marshall tells me that after COVID there was a lack of chutzpah. Teachers and leaders didn’t seem to have the energy to take on an entirely new type of curriculum, as with most schools around the world.

With that said, Woz ED seemed to appear, for her, at just the right moment. It proved self-explanatory and well planned with a curriculum written by prior teachers and step by step instructions for use. After visiting Salamanca once more with her team of teachers and administrators, the whole staff was re-energized and committed themselves to STEAM education. Marshall says,

“If there is one good thing that came from that extremely difficult time, it was state funding, and the ability to launch this program with it.”

Now, teachers and students are thriving with new opportunities to be creative, solve problems, collaborate, and think critically. It’s a collaborative effort, every day is a process, but the hard work from each person serving Sharpsville students has paid off. When I asked Marshall what makes her job worth-while she answered,

“More than ever kids need educational leaders who are passionate about creating a supportive, explorative environment for them to grow. Students deserve people that care for them and an education that will prepare them for the future.”

Published: March 01, 2024


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