America is facing a shortage of scientists and engineers. The diocesan Catholic Education Division hopes to remedy that by introducing STREAM into 10 elementary schools this fall. These schools will focus on science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math.
Thirty educators from the 10 STREAM pilot schools met at the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood in June, just as the school year came to an end, to learn how to implement the new framework into their schools. STREAM is rooted in the STEM model that developed early in the 21st century. American businesses felt America was slipping behind on the global market and felt a need to increase the number of scientists and engineers. STEM schools expose young students to science, engineering and math through robotics, invention conventions and a Science Olympiad Scrimmage.
"College is too late to get somebody interested in these fields," said Jean Comer, the newly hired STREAM coordinator for the diocese.
Catholics schools have added a couple disciplines to the STEM core - art, which includes language arts, music and physical arts, and religion. Arts provide the students with critical thinking skills necessary to communicate and advance STEM in the real world. This makes for a holistic education that incorporates the left and right side of brain.
STREAM is not a new curriculum, but a framework for creative instruction. Traditional textbooks will be used along with white boards, iPads and laptops. Subjects will be taught and learned across all courses. For instance, the history of ancient Greece could be taught in history class, while art students make models of Greek architecture, and Olympic competitions take place in the gym. The concepts are learned and reinforced across the curriculum rather than in just one subject. It's about creating "aha" moments. The more relevant the lessons are, the more apt the child is to engage and transfer into other areas.
"It's exposure. Getting their hands dirty. The conversations you will hear when these kinds of programs come into your classroom, with the collaborative work that the kids do, are really amazing," Comer said.
Comer, a Chicago native, has been teaching and was in leadership roles in Catholic and public schools since the 1980s. St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville hired her in 2005 to write and develop an enrichment program.
"Through the course of those years I began designing units at all grade levels that were essentially STREAM in principle, meaning they had all the interdisciplinary components that we are now looking to infuse in all the schools," Comer said, during an interview shortly after her Martin House introduction to the Catholic educators. "So, I became very practiced at doing it and working with the staff and tweaking them and working with cultural institutions, guest speakers, let alone a really dynamic curriculum; getting their nose into the technology."
Twenty-first century learning involves the four Cs - creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. These are the skills students need to develop. STREAM learning involves critical thinking and analysis. Today, any question can be answered within 10 seconds thanks to the Internet. Learning and memorizing information is outdated. Students should be taught to understand concepts and be innovative with the information they are given.
"We need to be able to manipulate information and use it accordingly in our content," Comer said. "When you think of the year you are preparing (students) for, it makes you back up and do things differently."
The Martin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, incorporates much of the STREAM essence into its body. The architecture involves mathematical proportions and right angles, inspired by nature, in its design.
"When you see the Darwin Martin House, you see the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge. We want our students to experience that more," said Comer. "You don't live your life in a silo of discipline. You are usually living your life across disciplines, merging your thoughts and expertise or experiences in different subject areas to help you solve a problem."
In one year the expected result is increased Catholic identity across the curriculum, engaged learning while gaining higher achievement, exposure to the Engineering Design Process within the K-8 curriculum, increased team building and professional innovation.
Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, asks teachers and principals to imagine the future and think of how they are preparing their students for it.
"Your kindergarteners will graduate in the year 2031. What will the world look like then? I'm old. I've seen a lot of change in my life, even over the past 10 years. The rapidity of change that we have seen, those are the kids and that is the world. We can't even imagine it. But we have to start now. We owe it to our kids," Sister Carol said.
An online poll found 2,200 parents telling the diocesan Education Division what they wanted for their children's education. "It comes down to STREAM. They said, we're willing to go for it, and we're willing to pay for it too," Sister Carol said.
Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in Depew is one of the 10 pilot schools.
"We applied to be a pilot school because we really saw the potential in the program. This is the future of education basically and the way we wanted our school to go. This is the future we see for our kids and we want to be part of it," said Michelle Kostek, who will take on the role of STREAM coordinator.
Proud of her technology department and science lab, Kostek doesn't expect any big changes in the school curriculum. "I think we're doing a lot of these things already in our building. I think it will only enhance what we're doing," she said.
"I want our school to be on the cutting edge of education learning and we're going to get us there," added Principal Debbie Szczepanski. She looks forward to cooperation among teachers, staff, community, home school "working together to provide a great education for our kids in the Depew area."
Other pilot schools include Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls; Immaculate Conception, East Aurora; Nativity of Our Lord, Orchard Park; St. Andrew's Country Day School, Kenmore; St. Benedict, Eggertsville; St. Gregory the Great, Williamsville; St. Mary, Swormville; and SS. Peter & Paul, Williamsville.