A different way to learn

Early High School STEM focuses on technology, 21st century skills
Feb. 19, 2014 @ 09:43 PM

In an isolated wing of Northern Vance High School, seventh-grade students are learning from a screen rather than a textbook. They are watching a video clip in class about heredity.

Brown eyes flash on the display, with the words “dominant trait,” followed by an image of green eyes and the phrase “recessive trait.”

Solange Faucette’s seventh-grade science class doesn’t use books. In fact, none of the classes in the Early High School Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program have books.

Each student there received a Dell netbook, which contains electronic versions of the texts.

None of the classrooms have desks either.

“All the work stations are tables to foster collaboration,” said Dana Bowden, principal of Early High School STEM.

Vance County Schools’ first STEM middle school program is in its second year with about 100 sixth-grade students and 100 seventh-grade students.

Next year, the program will have a complete middle school next August when they add eighth grade.

Bowden said the students’ netbooks and classroom technology was funded through the federal Race to the Top grants.

STEM curriculum requires students take social studies and English language arts in addition to science, math and a design period.

Bowden said the daily design class focuses on a project-based, hands-on approach to learning where students create real-world models and diagrams to enhance their understanding of the lesson.

The tables and walls of Faucette’s classroom are covered with students’ projects, including a drum set made of household materials, a wearable diagram of the respiratory system and stages of meiosis and mitosis illustrated with play-dough.

“They basically come up with their own ideas,” Faucette said. “I don’t dictate to them what they should make and how they should do it, but I help guide them.”

Angela Bolanos and Ta’Ree Sulyans, sixth-grade STEM students, said the program has challenged them to think creatively.

“Before, the teachers told you all the answers,” Bolanos said. “But here, you have to use math and critical thinking to solve problems.”

Sulyans said he and his classmates learn to persevere, even if they don’t succeed at their first try.

“If we fail, it helps to teach us to keep going,” he said.

The STEM students also take electives, which include technology, computers, Spanish and physical education, Bowden said.

“We have Spanish at each level because the track is set up such that when they complete eighth-grade, they will have a Spanish I credit,” she said.

She said by the end of eighth grade, STEM students should also have high school credit for English I and math I.

“They get in their base courses really early, so they free up time during junior and senior year to be able to go on internships and to be able to actually get into the job part of it,” Bowden said. “So that’s what this middle school transition part is set up to do.”

The STEM program is accepting applications for next year’s sixth-grade class until Friday. Parents will know if their child is accepted by early March.

Bowden said the program is not taking students for the seventh- or eighth-grades.

“Right now, the way it’s set up, you can only enter as a sixth-grader because of the track kids are on,” she said. “If you come in later, you are not getting the same foundation other kids received.”

If the program receives more applications than spots available, there will be a public lottery.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.