Surry County Schools stage Steam for STEM ‘show and tell’

David Broyles

April 10, 2014

DOBSON — Surry County Schools took time from telling about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at its third annual “Steam for STEM” showcase to show what is being done.

The event at Central Middle High School Wednesday also focused on the system’s STEMmersion program where teachers bring back to their classrooms real world lessons from externships in local businesses.

A group activity for business partners, community members and staff attending a lunch held in Central’s gymnasium centered on a bio medical problem with diners asked to work together to create a device out of everyday items which can pick up a cup.

Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Scott told the crowd the challenge encompassed problem solving, collaboration and creativity and could be used to spark interest in students in a career in bio medicine. Regional science fair winners’ exhibits were on display as well as robotics exhibitions, a human body exhibit, math and science connections exhibit and an exhibit on student graduation portfolios and exit projects.

“This activity will help you see what we’re doing in classrooms,” said Scott. “This in many ways is what you expect your employees to do.”

“It takes more than a school system to do this,” said Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves. “Pulling all of the people together you see in this room creates a synergy we can’t duplicate. We have an extensive, five-year STEM plan because we realize how important STEM is, not only to our students but to our communities. When you think about education and this hyper connected world that is out there we have to connect our students with it.”

Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction Jill Reinhardt told the group one reason the program grows each year is the business partnerships and community members support.

“Today you will see examples of the core strategies we are using to engage young minds,” said Reinhardt. “These are key workforce skills you, our partners, have told us you need. One of the accomplishments we enjoy through partnerships is teachers directly connecting life lessons from business internships to their classes. Every teacher in this program has been excited to bring back knowledge to their classrooms.”

This project includes 35 teachers who typically spend two days in a local business so they may see, first hand, the relationship between content and careers. These teachers and their colleagues will collaborate further to develop project-based learning activities for all county classrooms.

The Central Middle School hydroponics garden on display at the event is an example of STEM teaching students about urban agriculture and growing their own food. According to “Green Hornet” Club Sponsor and School Seventh Grade Language Arts Teacher Sherry Turner. She and science teacher Brandi Joyce, who is also a club advisor the effort evolved from raised beds and other gardening done at the school.

Turner explained the students are using the Kratky System, developed by Dr. Bernard Kratk.y which is a standing-water low-maintenance method of growing vegetables without soil. With this method any reservoir with properly conditioned water allows the plant’s roots to grow down, following the nutrients as the water level drops.

She said the class uses items including lettuce stems from the cafeteria to grow new heads of lettuce. The club also had one circulating system on display at the luncheon uses a small fountain pump to cycle the water past the growing plants which will be given to Central as the program expands.

Turner credited business partners including Go Green Grading and Landscaping, Farmers Mulch and Rock and a “Whole Kids” grant from Whole Foods for supporting the gardening efforts at CMS.

“We use as much recycled materials as possible,” said Turner. “We’ll use anything.” She said the Kratky system has allowed food to be grown on windowsills throughout the school. The showcase also included classroom visits which showcased topics including “math in action,” “sustainable energies,” and a look at Project lead the Way (a non profit group which develops hands on STEM curriculum for schools).

David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.