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Salmon River plans STEM program expansion

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FORT COVINGTON - Middle school students at Salmon River Central School will soon be able to participate in the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program.

The school board passed a resolution supporting the expansion of the STEM program from the sixth grade, where it being utilized this year for the first time. to the seventh grade in the 2014-2015 school year and to the eighth grade in 2015-2016, Salmon River Central School Superintendent Jane Collins said.

The resolution calls for the STEM program to be fully implemented into the course of study for grades 6, 7, and 8 by the end of the 2015-2016 school year and for the high school to offer courses aligned with STEM Pathway by the fall of 2016.

Over the summer, seventh-grade teachers will attend a constructivist conference at St. Lawrence University for the professional development needed to teach the program, according to Middle School Principal Tammy Russell.

Teachers will be able to attend the conference for free, thanks to a Teacher Quality Partnership grant offered through the U.S. Department of Education, she said.

Ms. Russell said the grant also pays a stipend.

The STEM Program is a project-based curriculum developed to spark curiosity. It pushes for self-driven learning, critical thinking, leadership skills and the ability to work in both large and small groups. STEM embraces what its team of teachers likes to call “21st century skills,” according to previous reports.

Ethan Leduc, a sixth-grader currently involved in the program, said that the class was fun, but hard work.

Both he and his mother, Shilo Leduc, had approached the board about expanding the program into the seventh and eighth grades and even into high school.

Ms. Russell said parents have noticed their children are more excited to come to school because of the STEM program.

“STEM is about standing back and letting students do things on their own,” David Bish, the English/language arts and science teacher on the sixth-grade STEM Team, has said in the past. “We’re more facilitators than instructors.”

STEM breaks the mold of a typical lecture-based classroom, where pre-planned lessons, strict time limits, and teachers working alone were the norm. Projects are big, class-wide affairs and based on student interest in the lessons. At the same time they challenge students to mimic real-world pursuits in the safety of the classroom.

One recent project of the students in the STEM program was the school’s Greek festival in November, which incorporated the Common Core standard of Greek history lessons for grade six into the STEM concept of student leadership and problem-solving. It was the students, not the teachers, who chose this aspect of their curriculum to turn into a big event.

Prior to the festival, students had to write resumes so they could apply for different jobs to run and facilitate the Greek Fair. The teachers interviewed students for positions such as grounds management, reporting, design, and presenting. Students were placed in the job that best suited their strengths in organizing the event, just like in the real world. The students even had references that the teachers called to check on for certain skills and employment.

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