It’s critical for students to have a well-rounded education so they are best suited for any career they choose to pursue. In fact, a 2018 study by Global Jobs Report concluded that nearly three out of four children entering primary school will hold jobs that don’t currently exist. To ensure students are getting the skills they need to one day hold those positions, Chillicothe City School District developed and implemented a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for students in kindergarten through second grade. Last year, the district applied for STEM designation and quickly received it – a major accomplishment considering the program was established only two years prior. Now, the primary school has one of only four K-2 STEM programs in central Ohio.
CCSD STEM staff chose to integrate the program into schools with grades K-2 so that students wouldn’t have to wait until high school to be introduced to STEM curriculum. The goal is for students to be well-acquainted with STEM by the time they reach high school, as the curriculum is developed to immerse students in the program on a daily basis.
“One area of focus we’ve implemented in students’ day-to-day learning is an engineering program called ‘Adventures in Innovation,’” says Dana Letts, STEM specialist. “All students in grades K-2 are given a special notebook to use for their lessons and are taught how to use steps in the engineering design process to solve problems written about popular children’s storybooks. We’re always working to find new, creative ways to keep students engaged in STEM.”
Another student-favorite is the Muddy Boots and Backpacks environmental science program. The K-6 program was established in partnership with the Ross County Parks District, allowing students to have free access to all park properties. Students learn how to conduct research and have the opportunity go on expeditions in search of answers to their questions.
“In our early introduction to environmental science, students study ‘mini beasts,’ which are insects, worms and spiders,” says Heather Tarlton, STEM facilitator. “They learn general information about mini beasts in kindergarten, dive into more detail in first grade and go on to focus specifically on pollinators by second grade. Building upon previous years’ lessons and utilizing hands-on education, makes students enthusiastic for what they’ll learn moving forward.”
In addition to fundamental STEM lessons that are integrated into students’ everyday curriculums, the district has also developed VOICE (Variety of Individualized Choices in Education) lessons. Students are asked to vote for subjects they want to learn more about, such as zoology or botany, giving them influence and ownership in what they learn. The most popular subjects are added to the curriculum, while the topics with fewer votes are still taught through smaller units that students can choose to participate. VOICE allows students to be inquisitive and explore their interests, so when they join the workforce someday, they will hopefully know where their passions lie.
Letts and Tarlton are excited to see how the STEM program evolves and impacts students in the future. They hope students will take more risks, see failure as an opportunity and invest in their own learning, skills that are just as important as the core curriculum areas outside of STEM.
“In five years, we hope to be the model for STEM programs at other schools in the area,” says Letts. “Before we implemented our program, we were in a STEM desert – meaning there weren’t any districts with that designation between Columbus and Cincinnati. We want to be able to give our kids, and kids in surrounding areas, a cutting-edge education.”