STEM To The Second Power: Frederick L. Olmsted #64

STEM in Various Avenues

Part of the sprawling district of Buffalo Public Schools, Frederick L. Olmsted Elementary #64 has taken on the daunting, yet fulfilling task of implementing STEM curriculum in both general education and GT education. Acting almost as “two schools in one,” this elementary school is using STEM within the standard science, math, and reading curriculum. On top of this, some students are taking an intensive STEM course as part of an enrichment program.

Implementing a new curriculum is not an easy task, but with passionate leaders like Marquita Bryant and Joshua Freeburg, and capable teachers, like Dana Pepe, Alyssa Klink and Sarah Malczewski, the school is making steady progress. I talked with Freeburg and Pepe about their journey with STEM. Ms. Dana Pepe, the schools GT Resource Teacher, heads the Gifted and Talented Program at Frederick L. Olmsted #64. She teaches and assists with implementing STEM resources like Woz ED Kits into the GT curriculum. Mr. Joshua Freeburg, #64’s Assistant Principal, wears many hats working in areas from budgeting to implementing to daily support.

As of 2023, Frederick L. Olmsted #64 is officially considered a Woz ED STEM Pathway School. With every pathway in the process of implementation, aside from coding and animation, #64 has seen a shift in engagement amongst their students. They have found that students are eager to use the technology provided to them in order to build, ideate, and collaborate with others.

The Weekly

For each student, STEM has become a part of their weekly schedule. They use it most within the science and math classrooms. Here teachers are incorporating pathways like Engineering Design with biology and natural sciences. In creative subjects like visual arts, students are utilizing 3D Printing to craft projects. The school is also unique in its “small-group approach.” In addition to the traditional model of teaching to an entire class of 20-30 students, in the case of large public districts, teachers divide students into small groups and provide a more intimate style of learning. This has proven to be an effective approach.

Within the context of the Gifted and Talented program, led by Ms. Pepe, a STEM specific curriculum is taught. Here, entire units are taught in bi-weekly or monthly segments. Students have lessons in one specific area of STEM daily. For example, the current subject is Cybersecurity. Pepe is teaching her students a unit called “Safe-Guarding Information.” 

Getting There

Frederick L. Olmsted #64 was introduced to Woz ED STEM Curriculum when they attended a student showcase at Salamanca High School with Buffalo City School District and educators from all over the Eastern United States. After testing a few kits like 3D printing, lent to them by Jim Klubek from the Woz ED team, the administrative team at #64 decided they were ready to start implementing a more robust STEM curriculum.

Buffalo, referring both to the city and to the district, has been well ahead of the curve with STEM Education. This is a place thriving in STEM and dedicated to the goal of giving kids an education that will set them up for success. With that being said, the implementation process has seen its fair share of hurdles. There are always many people working behind the scenes to find the proper budgeting, to see where everything fits, to train teachers, and to test out materials. Mr. Freeburg tells me,

“I think the biggest hurdle was simply the fact that it is another program you are adding on top of all of the other things that you already do. With this there are always questions like, ‘When is it going to be taught? Who is doing the teaching? How will they get proper training?’”

For Freeburg, the man often acting as the middle ground, it is important to pay attention to providing the proper support required by each teacher, student, and team member. The hard part is that everyone is different. There is not one right way to do anything. In his position, he has to make sure that all the resources are available for each type of learner and educator. This, of course, is what Freeburg loves about his job. He gets to provide support for those leading the students.

Pepe adds here that, on top of the general stress of adding a new program, there is a “fear-factor,” especially for those who have never seen part of a Spheros robot. It can be intimidating to open up a kit and see something you’ve never worked with before. For the most part, after this passes, teachers find that the lesson plans are well laid out and easy to follow. As with all things, those that have been exposed to technology before are more inclined to pick up other technology quickly. It is a slow and taxing process for others to learn. These are things to keep in mind while they continue on their path forward.

STEM Community Night Fever!

Frederick L. Olmsted #64 loves a good community night that showcases student accomplishments. There are two coming up in the next few weeks. For them it is important to have the full community involved and allow parents to see what their kids are doing each day. This upcoming week, there is a STEM Night where kids will work with Engineering for Kids Buffalo to engage in the engineering design process. This is a great way to get students and their families excited about STEM.

In three weeks, the school has another community night. Olmsted School #64 is sponsoring a Creativity Fair with the theme of “Eco Creations”. Although this event is not specifically STEM related, Freeburg tells me that there are always STEM elements and resources at play. He has seen many student projects crafted with a 3D printer. That is the wonder of STEM. It can stand on its own as an educational tool or be used as a supplement to other learning environments. 

Both Freeburg and Pepe have difficult jobs. On any given day, they are juggling a million little tasks at once. For them, what matters most is that the kids are thriving in an environment where they are supported. Pepe interacts with students on a daily basis and is motivated by the “a-ha” moments she sees each day. She says,

“When you see them have enjoyment in what they are doing it validates the work you do. That is what drives me.”

Freeburg, although not in the classroom witnessing the daily action, is still driven by this idea as well. As he puts it,

“I am a bit more removed from that ‘look of wonder,’ but the reality of it is that it all comes down to that. I enjoy that I get to do a lot of different things as the building needs. But what that really means is ‘what do the kids need?’ The job is to provide a safe, awe-inspiring, wonderful learning environment for kids. Even if you don’t get to be in the classroom for all the a-ha moments, you know that they are happening.”

Published: March 08, 2024


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