A Team Effort
Westfield Academy encompasses grades Pre-K through 12 in one expansive building. The school is just outside of Buffalo, New York and has recently jumped headfirst into STEM education using resources, such as Woz ED STEM Kits, to accompany their computer science curriculum.
Michael Putney, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with, told me that the success of their program is due to a dedicated and supportive team. From the Superintendent Mike Cipolla, to principals such as Molly Anderson and Corey Markham, to IT superstars like Can Tenamore, to STEM professionals and teachers like Dan Martin and Claire Foley, everyone is doing their part to give students at Westfield positive experiences with emerging technology. He says,
“Because we have that big support behind us and such amazing team players we are able to do so much.”
Putney accepted his position as Technology Integrator at Westfield two years ago. His first outing in this role was to Salamanca High School with his team, where he first saw Woz ED STEM and Science Kits in action. He decided, right away, that this is what his school needed. Fast forward to now and Westfield’s STEM program has become a hit amongst students and teachers alike.
How it Works at Westfield
Westfield has a unique approach to STEM programming and Woz ED implementation. Each grade is assigned two pathways at their given level that they focus on for an entire school year. Then, a few years later, they hone in their knowledge of that pathway by taking the next level.
Putney uses the example of Cybersecurity to explain it to me in detail. In second grade, the children master the basics of Cybersecurity. This is an intentional choice for Putney, as this is the age that he finds children are being introduced to technology like cell phones. Then, in the fifth grade, they take the next level of Cybersecurity. This approach allows them to truly master one concept before moving on to the next.
At the elementary level, Mr. Putney teams up with the art teacher, Amanda Feraldi, for a STEAM approach. He teaches one class each week for each grade level (Pre K-5) and she teaches two classes that incorporate concepts into creative art projects.
Claire Foley and Dan Martin head the middle school and high school STEM classes. As students progress through middle school and into high school they are exposed to more technical pathways like 3D printing and Drones.
Beyond the STEM Classroom
In addition to taking STEM courses, STEM concepts are woven into other subject material. Mr. Putney told me about a history project the fifth graders did for Native American Heritage Month. The project was to replicate Native American artifacts to present to the class. The students used TinkerCAD stop motion animation technology to create artifacts used by certain tribes they learned about in history class.
Michael Putney also runs the school-wide TV productions with a group of students. Here, they play around with animation, computer programming, and sound technology. They also get to be creative with the ways they present announcements to their fellow students. This has proven to be an excellent way for students to express themselves, explore, and hone in their skill sets. It has also been a great way to hold school wide STEM contests and showcase student accomplishments.
Using Technology for Good
I asked Michael what the importance of teaching young people how to use technology is. He said,
“With technology, there is always good and there is always evil with it. So, it is important to teach them how to use materials correctly.”
With each new invention, there is the potential for it to be used for good or evil. The same goes for technology. As more advanced and intricate technology is released into the world, the importance of educating young people on how to use it with empathy and care grows. Putney, along with the rest of the educators at Westfield, works with this idea as his guiding principle. How can we ensure that students have futures that will not only bring about their own personal success, but also ensure that technology is utilized in positive ways?
By instilling in students a sense of responsibility and accountability whilst using this technology, we can contribute to their own sense of individual impact AND teach them invaluable skills like problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and innovation.
It’s Not a Job
Michael Putney doesn’t consider his job work. Not because it is easy, or because he doesn’t take it seriously, but because he genuinely loves what he does everyday. As a kid, he worked at his fair share of grocery stores and restaurants to earn money. This was work. Teaching is his passion. Thirty years of teaching in his pocket and he has no intention of leaving it behind anytime soon.
He studied to be an art teacher and taught general education before he seamlessly transitioned into his position as Technology Integrator. He has found that this position requires creativity, exploration, and growth just as art does. He is thrilled to be teaching during a time where there are major advancements in technology and innovation. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of STEM education and embrace the future. Westfield’s ecosystem of dedicated educators and leaders who share Putney’s enthusiasm have created a thriving center of learning and growth.
Putney also shared a bit of knowledge from his wife, a ELA teacher at Westfield, who told him, “Not anything that one person does is the most important thing in the world.” Everyone has a role to play and the best thing to do is to share resources in a way that allows each person to contribute in their own unique ways. Everyone working at Westfield is “working for the betterment of the kids,” as he puts it.