Stumped by STEM? PTSA event encourages parents, students to explore new education initiative | Slideshow

Parents of high school students, maybe even middle school students, in the Snoqualmie Valley School District have all probably heard of STEM by now. They probably also know that it’s an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. What they may not know, however, is what STEM actually is, what it means, and why it’s here.

In an attempt to answer those questions, the Mount Si High School PTSA is hosting the first ever “STEMfest” 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at Mount Si High School. What is STEMfest? It’s one part science fair, one part career fair and one part school program, designed to introduce students and parents to the district’s new inquiry-based approach to education before next year’s class registration begins.

“We’ve had on the books that we would do a science fair this year,” explained PTSA co-president and STEMfest co-host Lori Hollasch, “and we are becoming a STEM school, so it made sense for this to be a STEM fair, instead of just a science fair.”

STEMfest, then, will describe the district’s STEM push, which is centered at the freshman campus opening next fall, and highlight the related classes available at both campuses.

Cathy Renner, who is co-president and co-host with Hollasch, is excited about “the kids being able to explore, not just the new (courses) but the current ones that they may not know about,” during the event.

STEMfest includes tours of science and math classrooms, a display of various science projects, and opportunities to speak with teachers and get answers to questions, but it begins with a program in the Mount Si auditorium, featuring guest speaker Keith Rivers.

Rivers is a former student of Joe Dockery’s, and Dockery, although not a math or science teacher, is a strong supporter of the STEM push. He teaches digital media classes, has been integrating STEM concepts into his classes for the past year, and this week, he’ll be leading a workshop for other teachers about creating infographics, which to him illustrate the STEM concept.

“There’s just tons and tons of data out there, and how do we relate it to the average person, make it relevant for them?” he asks.

Dockery was initially hesitant about STEM, he said, thinking about students like his daughter, who hated math. “She’s a language arts, writer, reader, theater person. That focus is not going to be what she wants,” he thought. “But they’ve made it more flexible, so that she could have taken different options. “

Also, he says, “I like to call it STEAM, because I think we should add the ‘A’ in there for the arts.”

Brian McCormick, a language arts teacher moving to the freshman campus next year thinks along the same lines. He is looking forward to his work next year with computer teacher Kyle Warren’s video game students, and teaching them to write the plots for their games.

“It’s a great way to help kids who may not feel they’re technology-savvy, maybe to help them focus on their creative side,” he said.

Working at the freshman campus will mean a lot of teacher collaboration, he says, and potentially some changes to the non-STEM teachers like himself. He foresees sacrificing some studies of fiction in order to prepare students for more scientific essay writing, but adds that it may not be a real loss.

“Ultimately when you get to college… the majority of your reading is pretty much non-fiction,” he said.

Also “Just because it’s science doesn’t mean it’s not language arts,” he said. “Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Only in high school and college do we compartmentalize subjects. That’s what I like about STEM, it’s allowing that crossover, it’s encouraging that crossover.”

Christine Kjenner a high school math teacher, is all for the new emphasis on mathematics, across all grade levels. She doesn’t expect the new initiative to change much about her Common-Core math curriculum for now, and will be teaching only upperclassmen next year.

Renner and Hollasch are expecting a good showing of math and science teachers at STEMfest, along with teachers from other disciplines, and some of the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS)  teachers, professional software developers on loan from Microsoft to teach students.

STEMfest will also showcase demonstrations from the robotics and computer animation classes, plus a raffle.

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