Streamlining with S.T.E.A.M
Salamanca City School District is made up of three schools which rest in the northern part of the state of New York. Named after the Native American tribe that inhabits the area, this district is one that is committed to giving back to the community and being a part of the larger social ecosystem that exists in their corner of the world.
Salamanca is made up of an elementary school, an intermediate school, and a high school. Within each of them, there are teachers and administrators who have introduced STEM education and have begun paving the way to creating a well-rounded curriculum that will allow students to explore new opportunities.
I recently spoke with two of these individuals. Cheryl Johnson teaches Drones to seventh and eighth graders. She has been with Salamanca for several years, the second of which the school began working with Woz ED. Before this, she taught earth science for seventeen years. For her, delving into unexplored territory in the STEAM world has reignited her passion for both teaching and learning. It has given her an opportunity to learn and grow alongside her students.
Tim Schnaufer is the new kid on the block. He joined the Salamanca team last year and teaches the STEAM special at the intermediate school. Tim’s background is in environmental science and conservation biology. After doing some field work in biological conservation, he decided to become a teacher and instruct students on ways in which technology can be used to solve real world issues, especially in regard to the environment.
In the Mix
Salamanca has implemented several career pathways from Woz ED. These include AR/VR, Drone, Robotics, Computer Science, Animation, and 3D Engineering. One thing that all teachers try to incorporate into their lesson plans is taking real life problems and having their students use the technology provided to them to find solutions.
Cheryl told me about a lesson where she had her students come up with innovative ways to zest oranges at a faster pace when her husband needed to solve this problem at his brewery. In another lesson, after her friend had hurt her finger in a boating accident, she had her students make casts.
The district is also finding creative ways to connect STEAM concepts to other subjects in school. For instance, the history teacher at the intermediate school teaches a lesson called “The Atrocity Museum,” in which students research a tragic event in history and then use technology such as 3D printers or animation software to create a model of it. Students then write a report on what they learned, combining subjects and allowing students to experience how technology can be utilized to accomplish various assignments and tasks.
Tim’s students are currently using 3D printing technology to create biomes for their chosen animal species. He told me that
“Woz ED has been a perfect fit for me because I have that environmental background, I have the technical mindset, and I am just flying through it alongside the kids.”
Woz ED curriculum and STEM kits have allowed him to structure his lessons in a way that is cohesive and easy for the students to follow. He also runs an after-school program, which allows students who are especially interested in specific STEM pathways such as 3D printing and robotics to spend more time learning and growing in these areas.
In True STEAM Fashion
Cheryl has newly adopted the role of Drone teacher and is enjoying the exploration that she is doing with her students. This is her favorite part about STEAM education. She tells me,
“We are getting them to think outside the box. We don’t know what the jobs are going to be in the future with technology changing so much. So, we as adults have to be flexible and open and constantly learning. That’s good for our students. It used to be that your teacher knew all and was the master in every subject. It’s not that way anymore. We can’t be, because next year there is going to be something new that I will need to learn.”
Since beginning her journey with Drones, she has realized how much opportunity is present within this area. Not only do the students truly enjoy learning how to build and fly drones, but if they can get licensed in high school, they can go on to work in a wide array of fields that are utilizing this technology already from space exploration to conservation to photography. She is working with other administrators and teachers to create a course that combines Drones,GIS, and 3D mapping.
In younger students, especially, the shifts in mindset after introducing a new way of learning is subtle. It is an expression on a student’s face when it finally clicks or maybe an increase in their desire to work with others. As they begin to grow, the benefits and effects of learning STEM concepts become clearer.
Oftentimes, when a student is given an alternative way to solve a problem other than a pencil and paper they excel. Cheryl says that it is more common than not, that her students who struggle with traditional subjects and guidelines excel the most in her class because they are encouraged to think differently.
Tim has seen his students become more creative and excited to learn. He notes that,
“From the start of a module to the end, you can see how much more engaged students become and they start to put things together as they go along with the material.”
At first, students are tentative with the material because it is entirely new to them. Over time as they begin building robots or flying drones or 3D printing, they get excited when they remember a concept they learned years prior and connect it to what they are learning now.
Wheels in Motion
Salamanca has many exciting events planned in the coming weeks and months. In May, the annual STEAM Fair will take place where students will showcase their projects from the year, including robots, art, and 3D printed diagrams. Additionally, students taking a special class in entrepreneurship will present their businesses to the community.
Administrators and teachers are working hard to create a GIS course that will allow students to utilize the technologies they have learned, such as 3D mapping. This class will allow students to dual enroll in college courses and receive up to three university credits.
When asked about the future, Cheryl expressed her hope to continue fostering opportunities for students to be successful in the workforce, lift up their families, and positively contribute to their community. She wants to encourage growth in her students, like one of her recent graduates who has started his own 3D printing business, and hopes to see more of them succeed in this way.
Tim is working towards a more streamlined approach to STEAM education by collaborating across the district. He wants to instill a sense of awareness and responsibility in his students so that they can use technology to benefit the world. He sees STEAM as a way for students to find careers that they can be successful in and create positive impact with.