STEM at Westminster School
STEM is an educational approach that integrates math and science, and employs technology and/or engineering principles to enhance understanding and practical application of these areas of knowledge. It is inquiry based and requires students to employ critical thinking and to actively engage with a problem in order to explore and solve it. The goal of STEM is to spur students’ natural interest in science and math, and provide them with a practical foundation in these fields, leading toward creativity, innovation, and invention.
In Westminster’s elementary/middle-school program, STEM includes math, science, technology, and engineering activities (curricular or extracurricular) which challenge students to take a hands-on approach to problem solving, often employing technology in the effort. Activities that ask students to find out for themselves how to build something, why something works or doesn’t work, that use technology to gather, analyze, or present data, or that apply an abstract principle to solve a real-world problem fall under Westminster’s STEM umbrella. Below is a sampling of STEM activities that are part of Westminster’s program:
Grades K – 8
In all math and science classes, regular hands-on labs give students the opportunity to explore and make discoveries about topics under study, using relevant equipment and technology to solve problems or implement the scientific method.
Grades K – 5
Science Seminars: On several occasions throughout the school year, Westminster science teachers invite students in grades 3-5 to a science workshop after school, where they are offered a variety of science stations for scientific investigation and interactive challenges.
After-School Enrichment Classes offer a changing roster of STEM classes. One recent example is Bricks 4 Kidz, where Students use LEGO bricks to build a variety of fun, interactive models. Students use probability in the “3-in-a-row” game model, explore friction and symmetry with the motorized spinning top model, create a Victorian-era optical illusion toy, and more creative engineering builds. (Enrichment classes change each semester, in response to the interests of our students.)
Odyssey of the Mind is offered to students in grades 2 – 5. Students work in teams to apply creative problem-solving to an array of challenges. Students in grades 4 and 5 visit the National Building Museum where they participate in activities which engage math and engineering principles related to architecture.
Grades 5 – 8
All students participate in computer technology classes, acquiring a foundation in keyboarding, internet research, and the application of various software programs. Computer skills are integrated into academic classes as appropriate.
Grades 6 – 8
Math Club / Math Counts, a club offered to students in grades 6-8 fosters problem-solving skills and higher-order thinking via challenging problem sets and interactive activities. The program offers both a club and competition component. One of the stated goals of Math Counts is to promote interest in and develop passion for STEM careers.
Online resources are utilized, such as ConnectEd (online version of textbook), where students can view video tutorials and take self-check quizzes.
Graphing calculators are used in all 7th and 8th grade math classes to supplement student learning. Periodically, students partake in “graphing calculator labs” to focus on specific functions of the calculator. Graphing calculators are used extensively in the statistics and probability unit via histograms, box-and-whisker plots, random number generators, and data analysis including standard deviation and variance.
A typical 8th grade math project assignment is to invent a unique good or service, describe how the invention works, and predict best-case and worst-case scenarios using principles of cause/effect and supply/demand.
Science Olympiad is offered in grades 6 – 8, providing opportunities to work in teams and engage in complex problem solving across an array of science and technology fields, preparing for competition in regional contests.
Science Fair for all 6th and 7th graders challenge the students to design and conduct an experiment, analyze data, write a report, and make a public presentation of the results.
Seventh grade life science students conduct web-based research on genetic disorders.
Seventh grade students dissect various organisms, which may include flowers, worms, clams, squid, fish, grasshoppers, frogs, and a mammalian heart.
Eighth grade physical science students design hydraulic devices which apply mathematics principles of force and pressure.
Eighth grade students design Rube-Goldberg devices which apply mathematics principles to simple machines.
Eighth grade physical science students design, build, and test crash test cars which apply principles of motion and momentum.
Eighth grade physical science students design and test boats which apply principles of buoyancy.
Eighth grade chemistry students apply knowledge of ratios and proportion to properly conduct chemical reactions.
Eighth grade students take a full semester of physics, applying mathematics skills learned at school.
Through participation in a Junior Achievement workshop, 7th grade math students increase awareness of the relation of math and science skills to specific STEM careers. Students are guided to develop short-term and long-term goals toward reaching such careers.
Upper-school students learn about science / math careers through field trips to local universities / research facilities and visits from science / math professionals who talk to the students about their work and how they reached their positions.