It was iSTEM Showcase Night at Bell Middle School on March 14, and there were many sights to see.
Among them: A young man displaying encyclopedic knowledge of the animals of the Gobi Desert; a seventh-grader matter-of-factly describing how she rewrote the school’s website code “so it would look better”; and a young woman who now knows how to use a green screen and a computer tablet to make it look like she’s anywhere in the world.
“That was good, but I accidentally wore a green shirt that day,” seventh-grade iSTEM student Quinn Cusack said. “I just looked like a floating head.”
For the showcase students in twos and threes were tasked with researching a different environmental biome, then creating a fact sheet, web site, diorama display and more to present at the showcase.
Emily Struck, the young girl who rewrote the coding to improve the default website template her team was given to use, said she did learn quite a bit about the boreal forest.
“But really, it was just a really cool way to learn about all this technology,” Struck said.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education have become popular with educators in recent years who saw a lack of student involvement and achievement in those fields. Educator Andrea Schulz was no exception, so last year she asked to start up a new STEM program, built from scratch at Bell to serve as a pilot program for the entire Jeffco Public Schools system.
“We added the ‘i’ for innovation,” Schulz said. “The kids really take pride in their work, and really see how it’s applicable.”
According to Schulz, the 60-student program quickly developed a waiting list this year. Next year Schulz said they hope to double the size of the program, to offer it to eighth graders as well. She said the flood of applications for next year guarantee a waiting list for the coming year as well. Deer Creek Middle School has already imported the program as well.
The innovation continues too: iSTEM students have already begun work on an ambitious aquaponics system, which will include the raising of 20 tilapia fish this spring.
“We’re kind of like guinea pigs,” Cusack said. “We get to go out and do stuff, instead of just reading a textbook all the time.”
Every student spoken with for this story expressed the same enthusiasm, and an appreciation for the hands-on nature of the program.
Bryan Douglass, whose daughter is in iSTEM, said his whole family loves it.
“She’s a lot more engaged now, and not just with education, which is phenomenal,” Douglass said. “And it’s kind of invigorated the school.”
The iSTEM program has one more community showcase planned for later this year.