A struggling school turnaround due to STEM has resulted in students who build bridges and test math theories with ease.
Lincoln Heights is fighting back from years of poor academic performance and declining enrollment.
Five years after losing its magnet status, the school switched to a new education model in hopes of turning things around: STEM.
Lincoln Heights is now in its second year as a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Teachers and administrators say they are already seeing a difference.
Students are more engaged, and fewer families are opting to send their children elsewhere, they say.
But it will likely be a few years before test scores could show any gains, said Erica Prentice, the school’s STEM coordinator.
There is a nationwide push for a focus on math and science in schools. Some businesses, lawmakers and education advocates say the country needs more STEM schools because there is a projected shortage of prepared workers in the technology and science fields.
STEM employment is expected to grow about 17 percent between 2008 and 2018. Yet only about 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates are ready for college-level math work and 30 percent are ready for science work, according to the STEM Education Coalition.
Wake County has 26 STEM schools. A handful, including Lincoln Heights Elementary, are in western Wake County.
Inside Tracey Green’s first-grade classroom at Lincoln Heights, 7-year old Catie Previtte ripped off a piece of masking tape and wrapped it around a row of straws to make a walkway for a troll bridge.
“If we don’t put the straws, then the billy goats can’t get across,” Catie explained.
Students read the book “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and then built a bridge for the goats. The teacher didn’t provide a blueprint or tell them which materials to use.
Options included cups, straws, Popsicle sticks, index cards and a plastic sheet.
That’s one of the pillars of STEM: A teacher poses a question or problem, and it’s up to the students to figure out how to solve it and to test their theory.
“The teacher goes into the facilitator role,” Prentice said. “Kids get a chance to try it. They learn that failure is OK and that you have to keep trying if you don’t figure it out at first.”
Students are frequently required to work in groups.
“It mimics corporate America,” Prentice said. “Every student has a different role.”
“It’s a lot easier for me,” he said of STEM. “It’s more fun.”
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