STEM teaching becomes growing focus at local schools

From vvdailypress.com

APPLE VALLEY — While wearing aluminum foil helmets and black garbage bags for spacesuits, Academy for Academic Excellence students laid on their backs on chairs and launched into space.

The simulation was part of a recent first-grade activity, where AAE students took a trip to the school’s Thunderbird campus observatory to learn about the Solar System. Victor Valley College Astronomy professor Dave Meyer was also on hand to teach the young learners about sunspots, or areas of the sun that appear darker due to a stronger magnetic field surrounding the area.

Hands-on science education is nothing new at AAE, a charter school founded in the late 1980s. But science lessons like these have become more of a focus in all grade levels across the High Desert as teachers begin implementing rigorous Common Core State Standards and prepare for California’s new Next Generation Science Standards.

“Obviously, the big priority in High Desert education, as well as the county and state, is on the new rigorous state standards,” said Dan Evans, spokesperson for San Bernardino County Schools. “California was one of the first states to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, and there was a big buy-in by the California Teachers Association in late 2014 when it announced it was teaming with Stanford to provide professional development through a $6.6 million funding effort.”

The Next Generation Science Standards were first adopted by the state’s Department of Education in 2013, according to the agency’s website.

But Kristin Hernandez, Public Information Officer for the Apple Valley Unified School District, said the CDE is still finalizing the framework of the new standards, which have been adopted by 26 states. She said AVUSD has not fully implemented them yet. Per state law, students are still taking standarized tests by the old standards.

However, she said AVUSD still “offers great opportunities for learning in the field of science and our programs are geared toward the new standards that are being put into place.”

STEM schools, also known as Science, Engineering, Technology and Math academies, are cropping up across the region, in part due to the demand for more high-skilled, science-backed jobs in today’s modern economy.

Evans said STEM has grown in every classroom, not just in specialized academies.

“Our County Schools’ Alliance for Education won grants to implement STEM training in high schools, as well as middle schools,” he said. “STEM is part of a bigger picture to promote career pathways, ‘Linked Learning’ and career technical education that gives students skills that provide opportunities for them both in careers and to be ready for college when they graduate from high school.”

Hernandez says AVUSD offers STEM, STEAM and other science-based platforms for students. STEAM is the same as STEM with the addition of art.

Both Apple Valley and Granite Hills high schools offer a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) Academy, which trains students to be technicians or engineers working with a computer-based industrial control system. Several other academies or tracks are offered for high school students such as CAMP, Computer and Media Pathway, and HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) at Apple Valley High.

Lori Clark, assistant superintendent of educational services in the Victor Elementary School District, said that several of their schools have a STEM or STEAM focus.

For example, Village elementary is a STEAM school, including the arts, Sixth Street Prep is a STREAM school that includes reading as a focus, and Liberty is a school of creativity and innovation which emphasizes some of the STEM components. To give the community a chance see each school and learn more about them, including STEM schools, VESD is holding its Second Annual “School of Choice” event at the Mall of Victor Valley  on March 7 from 11 a.m to 4 p.m.

Jonathan Gerlach, a 2011-2012 Einstein Capitol Hill Fellow for the U.S. Department of Energy, describes the learning expectations and the reason why the new standards were developed in a promotional video at www.nextgenscience.org.

“Science isn’t just a mere bunch of facts,” he said. “Science is about the way we think about the world, the way we question the world, the way we communicate about the world. That piece alone, developing that, is a huge piece of the new standards.”

By BROOKE SELF
STAFF WRITER at DAILY PRESS
Posted Mar. 2, 2015 at 5:15 PM