nihf stem Middle school curriculum
The NIHF STEM Middle School is defined in part by its initials: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, at its heart, STEM education is about embracing a future that moves beyond 20th-century learning. This means building a learning environment that allows learners to think, invent, communicate, inquire and innovate freely. It means learning through problem-solving. It means opening the connections of learning to all disciplines so that the science of art or the history of engineering allows for a broader understanding. Communication among learning coaches and integrating lessons in multiple classes are important ways for learners to comprehend difficult concepts. For example, when students in a mathematics class were having trouble with fractions, the gym learning coach developed a game where solving fraction problems was needed to win.
Core Areas of Study
Science; Mathematics; English Language Arts; Social Studies; Physical Education; Health; Orchestra, Band, Choir; Visual Art; Entrepreneurship; Digital Literacy; World Language - Mandarin; Engineering & Robotics
Teaching Creativity to Learners: How it’s Done
Teaching creativity is a part of all studies at the NIHF STEM Middle School. As stated in the school’s vision statement, the purpose of providing an education “that ensures creativity and inventive thinking” is through a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is practiced in the classroom with problem-based learning, an approach that begins with open-ended questions needing inventive solutions as opposed to giving answers for children to memorize.
Why Teach Creativity?
It’s simple: regular creative activity trains our minds to think and react faster and better. It helps humans make the connection between point A and point B and create a way to point C. From the perspective of the NIHF STEM Middle School learners, problem-based learning makes lessons relevant, inclusive and enjoyable.
Problem-based learning is an experiential learning approach organized around the investigation and resolution of current and real problems. The authenticity that accompanies problem-based learning helps learners relate to the task and become more invested in finding a solution. As a result, the process facilitates deeper and longer-lasting levels of understanding.
At NIHF STEM Middle School, problem-based learning is the foundation of the curriculum. To ensure its effectiveness for both learners and learning coaches, each PBL unit meets several standards:
- Problem-based learning integrates several content areas.
- Learners work with community experts to solve problems.
- The materials covered are aligned with the Ohio Content Standards.
Problem-based learning often requires that learners get their hands dirty. After an initial coordinated effort and research by the learning coaches, the NIHF STEM seventh-grade class received an invitation to work directly on a regional reforestation project.
While removing invasive plant species from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, alongside rangers as part of a service learning project, learners were asked by Ranger Josh Bates to help him solve a problem. The park recently received a grant to allow them to reforest part of the national park. However, their previous attempts at planting trees were unsuccessful due to the vole damage. Ranger Bates asked the learners to share with him their solutions to this problem.
Upon returning to school, the learners, under the guidance of their learning coaches, made a list of everything they knew about the problem and everything they needed to know. This list started their research as they formed groups to document what they found out. From that work and labs and activities completed in science class, a list of solutions was formed.
The PBL concluded with a Presentation of Learning at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park implementing the best solutions. Learners planted native trees and included their solutions -- whether it was garlic, coffee or lavender -- in the hopes of a high percentage of trees surviving the winter. Learners and park rangers made a grid of the reforested area marking which solutions were used on each tree. A follow-up visit to the park the following spring is planned so the learners can check on their success rate.