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District picks up STEAM, expands project-based program

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published February 4, 2016

 Roosevelt Elementary students assist in designing a tennis shoe at Sundberg Ferar Dec. 11, 2015.

Roosevelt Elementary students assist in designing a tennis shoe at Sundberg Ferar Dec. 11, 2015.

Photo provided by the West Bloomfield School District

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Are we safe from space? 

Solar eclipses and solar flares can be dangerous, but sixth-grade STEAM students at Orchard Lake Middle School are on the case.

These future scientists, designers and literary scholars aren’t basing their findings solely on reading what is already known — they’re engaging in project-based learning and examining data to develop safety nets for space dangers. 

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The classes use a project-based learning approach and connect students with professionals from universities and businesses while combining science with arts and design. 

STEAM-based learning — which includes not only technical skills, but language arts and fine arts — was implemented at Roosevelt Elementary in 2015, and the West Bloomfield School District announced Jan. 25 that for the 2016-17 school year, the program will expand to K-12.

Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Alesia Flye said the benefits of the program are twofold. 

“As a district, we’re developing programs with businesses and industry leaders sitting at the table with us,” Flye said. The business and industry leaders indicate what skills, like collaboration and critical thinking, are needed in their fields. The West Bloomfield School District partners with the Michigan Science Center, Quicken Loans, the Lawrence Technological University College of Architecture and Design, Oakland University, and the United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol. 

“If our students have these experiences in elementary, middle and high school, I think it’s going to give them a leg up as they go into college,” Flye said. 

Orchard Lake Middle School teacher Andrea Williams said her sixth-grade STEAM students had to go through an application process to join STEAM.

“The whole design of the program is around project-based (learning), so they’re actually designing things as they’re learning them, versus just memorizing and being quizzed or tested,” Williams said.

Williams was teaching her students Feb. 2 about the formation and features of the moon, and the students used resources that describe what scientists know to create comic strips.

“They can use their art skills and creativity to interpret what’s happening in a way that makes sense to them,” Williams said. 

Sixth-grade student Maxwell Gottesman said project-based learning has allowed him to work with other students to come up with fun and creative ideas. 

“Project-based learning is so much more fun than what we used to do. … It’s definitely transformed my life. It’s a lot more engaging and more fun. Before, it was kind of boring and lifeless; and now, I’m really into it,” Gottesman said. 

As the entire district moves to incorporate STEAM-based programs, middle school STEAM students will work on cross-curricular, schoolwide projects and participate in extended learning experiences. High school students will have the opportunity to engage in internships, field studies and capstone projects in one of the following pathways: science, business, engineering, political leadership and fine arts. Flye said high school students will apply for a pathway in the ninth grade, but their internship or capstone won’t take place until their junior or senior year of high school. 

Students interested in STEAM must submit an application and meet criteria to be admitted into the program. Oakland County residents can apply for admission under the Schools of Choice program. Openings are limited. Applications for West Bloomfield STEAM are available at www.wbsd.org and are due by March 1. 

A parent information meeting will take place at Roosevelt Elementary School at 6 p.m. Feb. 11. For more information, call (248) 865-6479. Tours are available weekly at Roosevelt Elementary, Abbott and Orchard Lake middle schools, and West Bloomfield High School.

Companies interested in becoming a West Bloomfield STEAM partner can contact Flye by calling (248) 865-6479.