DeKalb school chief: Hands-on STEM programs open minds and doors

DeKalb Country Schools Superintendent Steve Green (right) and Captain Barrington Irving of The Flying Classroom and Experience Aviation talk with Stone Mountain Middle School students. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Here is an essay from DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green on the expanding role of STEM in his district’s schools.

By Dr. Steve Green

There’s an old saying: Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

In our DeKalb County School District, we teach kids to fish.

In fact, at McNair Discovery Learning Academy, we’re teaching students to raise fish, right in the classroom. Then they use the fishes’ water to grow vegetables that students donate to hungry families.

Welcome to 21st-century education in DeKalb.

With a strong core of STEM programs like the one at McNair – STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – our students are developing the partnering and problem-solving skills, the technical expertise, and the communication capabilities needed to succeed in a competitive, technology-driven modern world.

STEM education puts together subjects usually taught separately, and then shows students how to apply those subjects to real-world situations. Instead of studying about how fish are raised, for example, students actually raise them … and learn the science, math, and other subjects needed to be successful at the task.

A good STEM program teaches students in an engaging way … but importantly connects the concepts in textbooks to the world in which we live.

DeKalb now has four STEM-certified schools and 94 STEM programs, serving children of nearly every age. Our district leads Georgia in the number (and, we strongly believe, in the quality) of STEM programs. We have 11 more schools ready for certification consideration in 2016.

Thanks to STEM, classrooms in DeKalb feel rigorous, relevant, and related to real life in our 21st century. Industry and university partners are a key component of STEM initiatives. This year alone, our district schools enjoy the support of powerful partners, including The Flying Classroom, Experience Aviation, the Ford Motor Fund, the United States Navy, and HATponics.

These kinds of partnerships, guided by our talented teachers and administrators, bring the world right into the classrooms of DeKalb students … and they spur career and life interests.

At Sagamore Hills Elementary School, students use 3-D printers to create low-flow shower heads. Students at Dunwoody High School are building a coupe car from the tires up. Third graders at Chesnut Charter Elementary School design and 3-D print models of fanciful new animal species.

To master job skills, students at Warren Tech High School, a special education facility, operate an aquaponics greenhouse. (Twice a week, these classes lunch on the fruits of their labor.) Helped by Skype and an interpreter, McNair students collaborate on their classroom fish-and-hydroponic project with peers at a school for the deaf in Jamaica.

These aren’t ivory tower, theoretical, pie-in-the-sky projects. Such hands-on programs open minds … and open doors.

McNair is a Title 1 school where every single student qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunches. There and at many of our district’s 135 schools, educating 102,000 students from 180 nations and with 144 languages, curriculum supported by STEM offers a way out and a way up – a transition path into secondary education, then into full-fledged careers where citizenship requires excellence, engagement, and ethics.

That’s why President Obama and many in the scientific, engineering, and technology communities consider the STEM teaching model a national priority. In light of an increasingly interconnected and tech-driven world economy, education policies … and programs that emphasize science and technology skills development … could mean the difference between future economic progress and stagnation.

“Teachers and principals in schools … are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy,” President Barack Obama said in January 2014. “Some of this change is hard … but it’s worth it … and it’s working.”

In DeKalb, we conceived and launched STEM initiatives to expose students to a rigorous academic environment … but also to let them apply classroom lessons to real-world problems – aquaculture, for example, or vehicle design, or 3-D design/print opportunities. After the discipline of STEM programs, students exit classrooms with improved skills in communication and collaboration, teamwork, and technology use … and with higher overall achievement.

Inside the classroom, where education really happens, DeKalb STEM teachers excel.

Two of our STEM leaders – Jason Raines, a sixth-grade science teacher at Stone Mountain Middle School, and Eric Knapp, an engineering teacher at Tucker Middle School – have been selected for the Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy. The prestigious academy has accepted just 25 teachers in all the United States … and DeKalb has two.

The STEM model – an integrated instructional process that covers all subjects – continues to surprise us with its flexibility. Our very inventive teachers have created STEM units for the arts, technical writing, informational literacy, and governmental concepts, to mention a few. With our national urgency to make sure our nation doesn’t fall behind in the sciences and math, STEM’s highly integrated content and greater project-based learning makes it the right model for students and our district.

We believe the bedrock of good education is rigor, relevance, and relationships.

Our STEM program gives students all three … and then sends them out from our schools with the 21st-century skills they need to make a difference.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

18 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I hope these are actual "meaty" courses, and that they don't overlook the core skills and abilities that are needed in the real world, in favor of flash and bling.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Dr. Green, the first few paragraphs of your essay by themselves make me want to comment on the several points of understanding and wisdom you offer therein, but I will here comment on just the photograph atop the essay.

The photo’s caption has lead me to discover yet another hero, Capt. Barrington Irving.  You see, anybody who can fly anything is my hero.  Then Capt. Barrington leads to discovering still another hero, Shaesta Waiz (read here), a member of his crew and the first certified civilian female pilot from her country, Afghanistan.

Amazing, inspiring, and hopefully a testament to DeKalb County Schools System becoming ever more capable to engage and nurture children’s inborn human spirit and dreams imagined and yet to be imagined in all directions, including STEM as well as the arts, literature, and history, as MES suggests.

Here is Capt. Irving at TEDxJamaica telling the story of his journey to becoming the youngest person to fly solo around the world, at age 23… 

https://youtu.be/4yrvZZGnxHA (22:14)

A quick story… I once hand the pleasure of talking briefly with a Tuskegee Airman, a pilot.  I said, “I could ask you about all the race discrimination stuff you guys had to deal with, but here is what I want to know: What was it like to fly the Mustang?”  He immediately looked at me as if he’d never been asked that question before but, just as quickly, a look of orgasmic ecstasy took hold of his face and he said, nearly whispering: “Except my wife, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever done.  I would have married it if I could have.”  I said, “Wow, it was like that, huh?”  “Yep, it was like that,” he said.

ErnestB
ErnestB

Hands on learning opportunities such as these can definitely help students in understanding and possibly giving consideration to STEM careers.  Schools that lack the instructional resources to help students in this manner need partnerships with the community to help provide this type of exposure.

Astropig
Astropig

We need more real world vocational training. I personally stimulate the economy by hiring craftsmen to do the things that I can't do myself in my various holdings, and to a man,those that own their own business tell me that finding good technicians,mechanics and problem solvers is by far their biggest business challenge.Unskilled labor is easy to find and cheap,but repairmen, diagnostic techs and assembly/replacement workers are like gold.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Niobe 

Who's the "liberal" here: the white student sporting dreadlocks, or the black student proud of her heritage?

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf @Niobe Must agree with "Some Black Guy" that cultural appropriation is a load of bull do-do. No culture owns a copyright, so to speak, on a look.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @OriginalProf @Niobe 

Originally, "dreadlocks" were worn by Jamaican Rastafarians for religious reasons (forbidden to cut hair) and political ones (they inspired "dread" in the British rulers). So I would think that wearing dreads by blacks who aren't Rastas is also an appropriation.....

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

" In our DeKalb County School District, we teach kids to fish."

Hook, line and sinker...

Mandella88
Mandella88

@dsw2contributor

Like zombie extras from "The Walking Dead," members of the DSW2 Mafia still occasionally wake up from the tomb (i.e., mommy's basement), to show that they too are never really dead - they just keep moaning and bit...., well, let's just say moaning....

HIbought theRefs
HIbought theRefs

STEAM - put the arts back in the curriculum, because creativity leads to scientific inquiry and discovery.  see artsnowlearning.org for more info about how to integrate arts into the core curriculum, including the STEM classes. 

Travelfish
Travelfish

Unfortunately, that same Obama which Green apparently worships has also colluded with open-borders Republicans like Johnny Isakson to give STEM jobs to foreign workers. 

Leaving increasing numbers of American graduates unemployed.

As the number of H-1B visas given out steadily increases, American workers too often end up having to train their lower-wage replacements:

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/02/25/laid-off-disney-worker-breaks-down-in-tears-before-senate-panel/

MoFaux
MoFaux

@Travelfish If mentioning someone's name equates to worship, then there must be an enormous pantheon that you genuflect to daily.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

That is an inspiring report, Dr. Green.  Keep up the great work.


I must emphasize, however, that technical writing and informational literacy do not produce the same awareness as being highly educated in literature and history, as well as psychology, which elevate consciousness.


Please take a moment to read the essay in the link below which I wrote for my personal blog in 2011, entitled "Danger Zone:  Stereotypical Thinking."  Thank you.


https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/danger-zone-stereotypical-thinking/