STEM is everywhere and STEM is something everyone can enjoy. That’s the big message from Wayne-Westland Community Schools’ new STEM Center, now in development at John Glenn High School. This new resource is something the community asked for, says Adrienne Nathan, Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction at Wayne-Westland Community Schools.
“Through the bond issue and as we are making renovations in the district, we got feedback from the community that families wanted to see more STEM in classrooms, and that led us to creating the STEM Center. It’s a community need and want,” Nathan says.
Currently in year one of a five-year rollout, the STEM Center now serves K-8 students, and will expand to PK-12 by year three, with a goal of full district-wide implementation by year five, explains Amy Bidne, K-8 STEM Teacher/Coordinator and Elementary Science Content Lead. “Our goal is to make this a community STEM center, a place where people from the community can come and be part of what is going on,” Bidne says. “We aim to have family nights and open the door to the maker space to train people on how to use materials and experience the wonderful benefits of engineering and design thinking.” The STEM Center will be accessible through a separate, dedicated entrance to minimize disruption to learners at John Glenn.
With plenty of enthusiasm, both educators have a goal of demystifying STEM. “We want students to learn that STEM is a way to be, not something you do,” says Nathan. “From technology onward, STEM is not something reserved for certain people, but it’s really accessible and part of everyday life.”
Hands-on STEM everywhere, for everyone
The center is under construction and, when it opens in fall 2022, will be a flexible space that can be modified to fit the needs of the user, complete with a maker space filled with laser cutters, AV equipment, sewing machines, and a lot more.
“Important to STEM is the ability to create authentic science experiments and the ability to modify what we have to fit a class or group’s needs,” Bidne says. “If a teacher wants to bring an elementary class in here to do lab work, we will be able to move in lab benches and safety equipment and do science work here safely and authentically.”
An upcoming event planned for the space is Girls in Engineering Academy day for all fifth grade girls in Wayne-Westland Community Schools, in-person and virtually. “They’ll do an engineering activity and hopefully that will get lots of them interested and pave the way to create a cohort for Girls in Engineering Academy this summer,” Bidne says. “We are committed to equity and accessibility for every single girl to attend.”
As much as the STEM Lab is a physical space, it’s also an educational frame of mind that includes STEM learning wherever and whenever students happen to be. “The fact that the STEM Center will be a hub is a feature we are super excited about,” Nathan says. “We can push out lessons and activities into every building in the district, even creating mini-STEM labs.”
Future planned activities include fifth and sixth grade environmental science playspace learning, interactive read alouds for elementary students and a kindergarten activity that includes coding car-shaped “indi bots” and designing a landscape to test and modify the programming.
“It starts with a classroom reading of a fictional story about a triangle that travels,” Bidne explains. “In the culminating event, students code their indi bot to drive through their designed landscape to mirror the story. It’s all screenless coding and involves colors and directions and many other things kindergartners are learning at the same time.”
Through the STEM Center, the educators plan to extend access equitably by providing each student with technology, tools and resources to tinker with at home. “We want to make sure equity and access is just that. No one is left out and everyone has opportunities,” Nathan says. “We recognize the change in college and career dynamic and that college isn’t necessarily the first direct pathway for a high school grad, so we want to open other opportunities so kids are ready to create a lucrative career and, increasingly, those paths involve STEM. We want to make sure they are ready.”
‘Every kid, every day, as much as possible’
While the STEM Center is underway, Bidne and Nathan are taking advantage of every opportunity to bring STEM to students, and partnering with community organizations is a big part of that. Through scholarships, 50 high school students will be attending immersive summer camp programs at nearby Lawrence Technological University and camp opportunities are planned for elementary and middle school students.
Future plans include launching an esports team and providing a materials upgrade for the robotics team. An additional goal is knowledge-sharing events with members of the community who can bring valuable real-life expertise to students.
“The reason I’m so passionate about the STEM Center is because this is my community. I grew up here, my kids go to school here and the level of access the STEM Center will provide is more than just a computer,” Nathan says. “Every kid has access to coding and creative engineering not just because it’s cool and fun but because it can uplift the community. Our kids need more experiences and we want to make sure we aren’t missing the boat.”
Bidne agrees, sharing the STEM Center’s unofficial mantra, “every kid, every day, as much as possible. This is our jam.”
Learn more about Wayne-Westland Community Schools — where any student who is a Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe or Washtenaw County resident can attend — at wwcsd.net.