Newsweek announced its ranking of the top 5,000 STEM high schools, putting PWHS in the top 6% of secondary schools in the country.
STEAM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics,” but the goal of STEAM in Colonial goes well beyond those five subject areas. The District is developing a “STEAM culture,” where teachers from all grade levels and disciplines can inspire students to use specific skills and processes to explore what they learn more deeply, solve problems in innovative ways and create new things.
Finding new ways to solve problems
Many STEAM concepts help students organize an approach to a challenge.
For example, the Engineering Design Process has five steps:
1. Ask: Ask questions to define the problem.
2. Imagine: Brainstorm solutions.
3. Plan: Sketch ideas and determine needs.
4. Make: Create and test a prototype.
5. Improve: Find ways to make the design better.
The Engineering Design Process is a way professionals in the field organize their thinking and create new products – and it’s also at the core of the technology education curriculum in Colonial. However, it's also a tool that can be adapted for approaching a problem or challenge in any subject.
STEAM also encourages interdisciplinary learning, where lessons incorporate concepts or skills from more than one subject. Innovative units embedded in the elementary curriculum teach students this idea from an early age. The first grade “Wetography” unit combines science and social studies through lessons about how water works and where you find it on Earth. The “Inventors and Innovations” unit in fifth grade brings technology education into the study of Thomas Edison, as students try their hand at creating prototypes for inventions that will help people with disabilities.
At Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, the $40 million renovation project offered the opportunity to move classrooms around and create physical areas that specifically encourage collaboration. The new EDI (Entrepreneurship, Design and Innovation) department finds business, art and technology education classrooms side-by-side with room for groups of students to work together to build and market prototypes.
“The ultimate goal is for students to use a transdisciplinary approach to problem solving, where they tackle a challenge by pulling from all of their unique experiences and knowledge,” said Dr. Liz McKeaney, Director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the District. “By opening up the walls between the different disciplines, we'll see more truly innovative results.”
The Four Cs
Formerly known as "21st Century Skills," The Four Cs (Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking) fit into the STEAM culture by helping students become more engaged in their lessons, work together more effectively and approach challenges in ways that reflect the modern workplace.
New courses focus on STEAM
STEAM also encourages study in the core subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, and new schedules have created opportunities for expanding courses in these areas. New electives at Colonial Middle School include Game Design, Engineering and Robotics, Integrated Design and The Science of Food. The new 5x5 schedule at the high school means students have an additional class period each day and can choose from a number of new STEAM-related electives.
Sixth grade science students rotated through activities in the library that demonstrated the three laws developed by Sir Isaac Newton more than 300 years ago.
The pilot is part of a program to develop national standardized high school courses in engineering through an initiative called E4USA (Engineering For Us All).
More than 480 Colonial Middle School students participated in the project through Technology Education and Art clubs and electives during the three-year run.
Thirty girls from fifth to eighth grade designed, built and programmed robots and drones.
The fifth graders took on the roles of developers, testers and the "scrum master" for designing paper airplanes.
Seven girls from the Colonial Middle School (CMS) visited Pfizer earlier this spring for the company's Business Technology for Girls (BT4G) event.
There were ten finalists from PWHS and 21 from CMS. Also, PWHS Junior Casey Sharpe and Sophomore Dhruv Agarwal were elected into state positions.
The team designed and built a crane, documented the process in a journal and blueprints, and kept a budget leading up to the competition.
The engineers spoke to all of the eighth graders at Colonial Middle School and pushed into Engineering classes at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School to give students a taste of engineering in the real world.