Fairmont Schools focuses on STEM

ABOVE: Students at Fairmont Elementary School work on an engineering project during the previous school year. Activities like these are now being offered to younger students as a result of revisions to the district’s STEM curriculum.

FAIRMONT– As Fairmont Area Schools begins the 2022-2023 school year, they are doing so with a revised STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum.

The updated curriculum aims to extend STEM instruction into younger grades and improve continuity between both grades and subject areas.

Kim Niss, Fairmont’s principal for curriculum, instruction, and research, headed the committee which worked on the updated curriculum over the summer.

“It’s like a ladder; we’re going up the rungs of the ladder and we’re ensuring what’s happening in 6th grade is going to take them right into 7th grade and extend it,” said Niss.

The updated curriculum solidifies technology and engineering as central subjects students will learn throughout their education beginning with technology activities in early childhood and continuing into advanced career and technical education (CTE) courses in high school. This should ensure students are better prepared when beginning new courses and improve learning outcomes across all of the STEM fields.

While the committee made significant changes to the technology and engineering components of STEM, science and math instruction will remain largely unchanged.

“We’re the supporting cast for the core areas,” said Bob Bonin, a high school teacher who sat on the committee.

Starting in early childhood instructors can check out specialized carts containing different STEM activities. In kindergarten through 2nd grade students will begin working with terminology and programming concepts which will become increasingly complex as they progress through elementary school, beginning with visual programming languages in kindergarten and concluding with JavaScript in the 6th grade.

Once they enter the 3rd grade students will partake in STEM activities taught in a specialty rotation similar to art or gym classes. These activities are designed to familiarize students with the engineering and design process as well as open-ended problem solving in groups. Last year this programming was just available for 5th and 6th grade students.

During a typical STEM program students are introduced to new concepts in technology and engineering and must employ them to devise a solution to a particular challenge.

For example, in one activity students were tasked with developing and constructing a miniature sled with limited materials which could carry small packages down a slope without spilling them. In this activity students would apply their knowledge of friction and motion while using a design framework which could later be employed in higher level engineering courses.

“Everything they’re doing is very deliberate that aligns to the learning intentions that we have for out students,” said Niss.

Open ended activities like these also allow students to reach different solutions. In the aforementioned activity one group of students created a sled with a smooth, saucer-like bottom to reduce friction while another group used runners to improve stability.

This year the 7th grade technology course is being overhauled and turned into a semester long STEM course that expands upon what students learned in elementary school. The course will primarily focus on coding and engineering design. Students will work with 3D printing, robotics, and programming to complete a variety of engineering and technology projects. Previously this course would have included some basic technology education such as typing techniques and general proficiency, but these skills are now being developed in lower grades.

In the 8th grade students take another STEM course which introduces them to some techniques used in manufacturing and construction trades. In this course students will work on projects like designing bridges, making cars powered by compressed gas, and possibly experimenting with virtual welding.

This 8th grade course is also supplemented by a nine week careers course which will help students decide on a future career and a related area of specialization for STEM courses they would take in high school.


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