Science & Environment
12:39 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Sandwich's STEM Academy Opens

A new STEM Academy for Sandwich middle-schoolers infuses everything students do with the collaborative and tech-heavy methods of real-world science.

You may be familiar with the acronym STEM. It typically stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Gil Newton has a slightly different version - Strategies That Engage Minds. For him, STEM education means offering classes like robotics, archaeology and Chinese, having teachers work in teams to coordinate core coursework, incorporating computer technology into all classrooms, and emphasizing learning by doing.

Newton is the head of Sandwich's new STEM Academy for seventh and eighth graders in the public schools. The Academy is located in a renovated wing of Sandwich High School. While the hallways look pretty standard, lined with lockers and bulletin boards, the classrooms are a bit different. No individual desks here, only tables for four - to enable group projects and encourage collaboration. There are also whole rooms you won't find in most public schools, set aside for teachers to plan as teams and coordinate related coursework.

In addition, every student will have a dedicated Chromebook for assignments, access to electronic textbooks, and communication. After some initial training about responsible use of technology and social networking, students will also be allowed - even encouraged - to use their own smart phones and tablets for school.

The STEM Academy was controversial when first proposed, but Newton says support among parents has grown as they've addressed concerns about interaction with high schoolers and clarified that the STEM curriculum includes all the basics, plus more of the arts and humanities than the previous program. Newton says he's confident the Academy will be a success, and that the STEM style of learning will eventually be applied at all grade levels.

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