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STEM program at BJHS gives more hands-on approach

BJHS teachers Marc Lauze on the left and Kevin Meehan on the right, stand by a monitor displaying the Earthquake 3-D program used in the new STEM classes in Berlin. Matilda Brown. (click for larger version)
November 23, 2010
BERLIN — The STEM program at Berlin Junior High School is in its first year and it is blazing a trail for other schools. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and according to Corinne Cascadden, Superintendent of Schools "There's no other school in New Hampshire offering a pre-engineering program for 6th to 8th graders…this is a pre-engineering program…it's hands-on…it different from traditional shop," she said. "We got a pre-engineering grant from the state for $50,000 and it got all the equipment we have now, the computers, the work areas, all of it."

The program replaces the "industrial arts program" more closesly associated with "shop class." The STEM class itself is a pre-engineering program, however. Marc Lauze teaches the class, along with his assistant Kevin Meehan.

"The curriculum we're using is called engineering by design," Mr. Lauze said. The class is mandatory for 6th to 8th graders at BJHS, but is divided up by grade level for content. "Sixth grade is exploring technology, seventh grade is innovation, and eighth grade is engineering and design," he explained.

Mr. Lauze noted that the class doesn't fall neatly into a traditional category since "it's not really a shop program or career and technical education…this is combining science, technology, engineering, and math to have students become more technologically literate."

According to www.stemedcaucus.org, the website for proponents of the STEM program maintained by the National Science Teachers Association, "…fewer American students than ever are graduating from college with math and science degrees." In the talking points document on their website, they also note, "Countries outperforming the U.S. in science and math, on average, spend 10 percent less of their respective GDPs on primary and secondary education than we do. Obviously, there are other important educational elements that go beyond funding, such as the fact that nearly 70 percent of U.S. middle school students are taught math by teachers with neither a major nor certification in this critical subject. Internationally, the average is 29 percent."

STEM's website goes on to say that U.S. college graduates holding degrees in math and science fields have also dropped. In the 1960's, one out of every six (17 percent of total degrees) bachelor or graduate degrees was awarded in engineering, mathematics or the physical sciences but by 2001, that number had dropped to less than one in 10 (8 percent of the total). This demonstrates a decline greater than 50 percent of college graduates with degrees in math and science fields.

Mr. Lauze concurred with what STEM advocates have to say, adding that the fields where these kids will be able to make money are far more likely to be in the sciences and math. "The class is mostly with the computers and incorporating science and math," he said. He also said that the class was about learning how the different parts of the world interact with each other to produce innovation and said, "we're going to be taking more things apart than building things."

At the moment, one of the projects Mr. Lauze is working on with the students involves plate tectonics. They are using a program, which can be downloaded for free online at http://www.wolton.net/quake.html. The program shows where earthquakes are occurring around the globe to try and make kids realize that there is more than just Berlin out there.

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