Innovation and creation

Marshalltown elementary students to receive specialized STEM education

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO All six Marshalltown elementary schools will see new STEM specialists added to their ranks this coming school year. Each of the three instructors will teach STEM once every six days for a 45-minute block of time. STEM specialists, pictured from left: Francie Woerner (Rogers and Woobury schools), Amanda Miller (Franklin and Fisher) and Alexandria Jahnke (Anson and Hoglan).

STEM, that well-known shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math, is hardly a new concept to many students at Marshalltown Schools, and a new program is expanding such education to the elementary level this coming school year.

“At the elementary level, all K-4 students have ‘specials,’ so they go to art once every six days, they go to music once every six days, they go to P.E. twice every six days,” said district Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson. “What we’ve done is added STEM in as one of the six days.”

The program curriculum, “Launch,” is offered through Project Lead the Way (PLTW). Three STEM specialists have selected specifically to provide STEM education to students at all six of the district’s elementary buildings.

“It should be a very busy, exciting room to enter; I know the three of us are very excited to pioneer this program for our district,” said Rogers and Woodbury elementary schools STEM educator Francie Woerner.

She will be joined by fellow STEM specialists Amanda Miller at Franklin and Fisher, and Alexandria Jahnke at Anson and Hoglan.

In their training at Iowa State University, Woerner said she learned to be a facilitator of learning in the classroom, and said she will apply that concept during the 45-minute STEM period.

“The teachers will make sure that we are clear and explicit with our instruction so the students know what their objectives are from the get-go,” she said. “Students will have access to solve real-world problems, they will have exploration time.”

Stevenson said two of the three specialists are also certified in English as a second language (ESL) instruction. “At K-4, the majority of our students are in the ESL program,” she said, adding the three new positions are funded with the district’s English language learning-weighted dollars. “Two of the three are currently certified by the state in ESL, the third one will be by next summer, so she’s working on her endorsement.”

Woerner said students will use class time “to innovate, and to develop skills they can apply,” and that collaboration will be an essential part of the classwork.

While the STEM areas will be the focus of the period, she added students will use literacy skills as well. “They’ll be doing reading also, and we’re incorporating writing in some kind of log or journal,” Woerner said. “The expectation is that they’re using those language skills, both written and oral.”

Stevenson said the next step with the program will be to monitor review it, and to work toward an aligned program at Lenihan Intermediate School. With the PLTW Launch program, the district now has STEM education available at the preschool and K-4 levels, as well as at Miller Middle School and Marshalltown High School.

Costs for instructor training and materials for the K-4 program are being covered by a $36,000 grant from the Governor’s STEM Council.

“[STEM education] keeps Marshalltown moving and growing, and so the question became ‘What could we do to even further encourage kids to take STEM classes and go into STEM careers?'” Stevenson said. “What elementary school is really designed for is to give children foundation, so that they can know more about what they’re passionate about or interested in.”