Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathmatics (STEM) has taken off at Jefferson Elementary over the last several school years, with a lottery system set up to choose which children on a growing list will attend the magnet school.
Some Winona Area Public School Board members are wondering what will be waiting for those students when they reach fifth grade in their transition to the Middle School. Last week, board member Brian Zeller said the district needs to continue its commitment to STEM education, and ensure that style of education is offered at the Middle School. Thirty-three percent of the district's fourth graders attend Jefferson's STEM program, he said, and there should be programming at the Middle School level that follows through with that platform when those students reach fifth grade. Zeller suggested that one "house" at the Middle School—each grade is divided into two houses—be devoted to STEM style learning.
Middle School Principal Mark Anderson said the board had asked for several changes at the Middle School level last year. In an effort to improve student achievement, Anderson said the fifth grade was changed so that teachers teach "course-specific" classes, rather than one teacher with the students for most of the day expected to instruct in multiple subject areas. Additionally, in response to the STEM curriculum offered at Jefferson Elementary, Anderson said that he and fifth-grade teachers had been studying infusing some of the "inquiry based" learning styles that are found in STEM education. He questioned the wisdom of offering STEM in just one house at the Middle School. "My big question is if one house is STEM and the other is not, what will STEM have, technology-wise, that others won't?"
Anderson said he has been putting together a brochure that shows some of the STEM-related activities and projects contained within the fifth-grade curriculum. Superintendent Scott Hannon said Anderson was doing a good job creating a list of things that need to happen for STEM to be further infused into the teaching approach there.
Hannon and Anderson agreed that any major shift toward STEM-style teaching at the site, whether in one house or all, would take time to implement. However, whether to infuse the Middle School teaching approach with STEM, or to focus on continuing the "inquiry-based" learning concept, is still in question.
Curriculum Director Jenny Bushman said that when the Magnet School Committee looked closely at how to implement STEM at Jefferson Elementary, it examined how those students should transition into Middle School. She said the committee visited other STEM schools and learned that the majority of other STEM programs were not continued at the middle school level. So the committee looked at ways to increase STEM and inquiry-based learning concepts across the board over time. "We weren't going to have a STEM [Middle School] house, we were going to infuse it and branch out," she said. "I don't know that I would support a STEM house at the Middle School. Look at [the committee] data."
Zeller, along with board member Jeanne Nelson, are expected to meet with fifth-grade teachers and talk about the issue in the coming weeks.