Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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Westchester Day Integrates New Waves of STEM and Educational Technology Initiatives Into Curriculum

Westchester Day School has always been known for its strong science and mathematics programs, but this year it is raising the bar by introducing several new STEM initiatives and educational technology enhancements into its curriculum.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and this year WDS is adding new technology and engineering classes to supplement its math and science offerings. As part of the new initiatives, WDS now includes a weekly engineering lab as part of the middle school science curriculum. The new engineering lab is configured as a Maker Space, with group workbenches, tools and supplies and 3D printers. The sixth, seventh and eighth graders have weekly design challenge sessions in the engineering lab, applying their science skills in a hands-on experiential way. Students are learning how to design 3D objects for printing by using Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) software. Later in the year, they will be integrating electronics into their projects using Arduino microprocessor boards. But Engineering is not just high-tech. For example, students completed a unit on structures, where they were asked to build a tower out of a box of uncooked spaghetti that could support a standard weight on top of it. By specifying the weight and limiting the amount of spaghetti used, students are learning how to solve problems with design and cost constraints.

These new STEM initiatives aren’t just limited to the middle school science education, but are being integrated into the curriculum across the school. For example, the second grade students completed a bridge-building engineering design challenge as part of a social studies unit on cities and infrastructure. Fourth graders will build structures as part of a unit on simple machines, and first graders will create weather vanes when they learn about weather.

STEM education is only one part of this new wave, the other comes in the form of educational technology. Since technology is pervasive in our lives, WDS is integrating technology into its classrooms more than ever before. They have dedicated iPad carts for the third through fifth grade students, who are using the iPads to enhance their curricula. New for this year, every student in the middle school is issued their own personal Chromebook. Chromebooks are lightweight laptops that leverage Google’s online suite of applications: word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. These tools enable the students not only to complete and submit individual assignments, but to collaborate with their peers both in and out of the classroom. Teachers are making use of these and other tools to enhance and better manage the classroom, be it through advanced presentation and resource-sharing skills or the ability to administer tests via Chromebooks.

While the Chromebooks are a great tool that enhance the educational experience, they are also a great tool for teaching responsibility. Students are responsible for their Chromebooks and need to make sure that they are fully charged for the next day’s work. Before the school year began, students and parents were both asked to read and sign an acceptable use policy, creating a teaching moment for kids to understand how to use technology properly.

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