Rising STE(A)M

Monroe Comprehensive High School is one of multiple schools in the Dougherty County School System with a robotics program. (Special File Photo)

ALBANY — The Dougherty County School System is working to provide an education that will prepare students for success in college and careers now and in the future. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is an important part of this effort. Many DCSS schools have taken action to launch their students into the world of STEM and STEAM, which includes the arts.

According to the U.S Department of Commerce and the Economics and Statistics Administration, employment in STEM occupations grew 24.4 percent compared to non-STEM occupations, which grew by 4.0 percent over the last decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects this trend to continue with STEM-related jobs increasing by 18. 7 percent by 2020. STEM jobs often pay higher salaries whether graduates are working in a STEM field or not, as a STEM degree enhances the critical thinking skills needed for success in many other fields.

Along with STEM and STEAM labs, 12 of the 14 district elementary schools have implemented FIRST Lego League Robotics teams in which students design and code robots to perform specific tasks and compete against teams from other districts in the state. In addition to building and coding robots for competition, the teams must choose a real-world problem and design a solution to share at the competition.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

Several elementary schools have implemented STEM or STEAM labs into their connection rotation with PE, art, and music:

Lincoln Elementary School: Students can use critical thinking skills to plan and carry out real-world investigations while being exposed to STEM-related careers in their STEM lab.

West Town Elementary School: West Town includes a STEM lab led by Carol Boges. Parents are included in STEM events throughout the school year and community partners from STEM disciplines are invited to share information and demonstrations with students, parents and teachers.

International Studies Elementary Charter School: A makerspace — creative space where students can gather to create, invent and learn — is a new addition at International Studies as the school works to integrate STEM into its curriculum. The makerspace was funded through a DCSS Charter System Innovation Grant. The school will use these funds to make STEM exploration a priority for students. Also at this school, STEM exploration takes place in many locations such as the classroom, the media center, a designated science lab and the ability to observe a self-driving Tesla in the school parking lot.

Sherwood Acres Elementary School: Sherwood Acres has won a $73,246 grant from the Dougherty County School System to implement its new lab. Students at Sherwood visited their new lab for the first time during the first full week of school and will work with a teacher as they become scientists and engineers by using the 3D printer, makerspace resources and drafting software.

Robert Harvey Elementary School: This school has a focus on teaching multimedia while also pursuing STEAM certification from the Georgia Department of Education. Representatives from GaDOE have traveled to the school twice so far to review the STEAM integration and provide support with the next steps to certification. At Robert Harvey, every student can complete STEAM projects and use updates to multimedia components to support their projects. This can help them prepare for similar opportunities to grow as they transition to Albany Middle School and Dougherty High School.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Albany Middle School: Students at Albany Middle use various websites and Hour of Code activities in their Computer Science classes and can join the Coding Club, whose kickoff is scheduled later this month. The club will be the first of its kind in Albany and will work to prepare students for competition.

Albany Middle School is also home to a FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics team and is starting its first STEM club. The STEM club will be responsible for upkeep of the school’s salt-water fish tank. Not only will students learn about marine salt life, they will also oversee the outside greenhouse and aquaponics system. Beyond standard science, aquaponic systems may be related to projects on sustainability, environmental science, agriculture, the food system, health, economics, business and marketing.

Merry Acres Middle School: Merry Acres’ Robotics Team is partnered with Albany Technical College to host a FIRST Tech Challenge Team to get students involved in coding and robotics. The students worked in conjunction with an Albany State University professor to construct solar cars during the 2017-2018 school term and are in the process of developing a science club that will meet monthly to incorporate hands-on STEM activities.

Radium Springs Middle School: Students will learn about coding and computer science with the aid of a $25,000 grant. As the school works to implement this grant, students will continue to work through Project Lead the Way modules in which students work in collaboration to make their own discoveries. When students engage in PLTW’s activities, they can explore computer science, biomedical, engineering and technology, coding and robotics. Radium Middle is also home to a FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics team through which students work to create and code robots they use in competition.

Robert Cross Middle Magnet School: Robert Cross received a grant that will be used to work toward STEM certification from GaDOE. At this time, the school has developed a STEM leadership team to begin the process, but teachers are preparing for STEM challenges throughout the school year. One teacher and her students will attempt the Balloon Tower Challenge on Aug. 31. The challenge is a team-building activity in which students work together, within specific parameters, to build the tallest “free-standing” tower possible. Robert Cross students are also engaged in PLTW Invention and Innovation modules in which they use Vex robotics kits to design, build and code robots.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Each high school in the district supports a FIRST Robotics Challenge team. These teams work as their own business, searching for opportunities to collect funds to build and code their own robots to use in competitions. These teams are dedicated to their design, engineering, alliances and competitions throughout the robotics season.

Monroe Comprehensive High School: In addition to the opportunities provided at all high schools, MCHS provides CTAE pathways in computer programming and engineering. MCHS is also in the process of earning Georgia STEAM certification. To support the certification process, MCHS has created a STEAM leadership team wherein students can take part in STEAM enrichment during “daily increased learning sessions” and will offer the various clubs to support the process such as Science National Honor Society, STEAM Club, Robotics Team, Lady Tornadoes Coding Team and offer STEAM career mentorship with local stakeholders and MCHS alumni. MCHS will host an in-house robotics competition, a STEM Career Fair for 11th- and 12th-graders, STEAM College Fair, science fair, STEAM fair, and Summer STEAM Academy for rising freshmen and sophomores.

Dougherty Comprehensive High School: Albany State University faculty have worked with Dougherty High to incorporate STEM activities into after-school enrichment programs to enhance engineering and design skills. DCHS will reinstate the science club during the 2018-19 school term with a STEM/STEAM focus. Projects will incorporate the engineering design process as students work to solve community issues in partnership with the Dougherty For Change club. Plans are also being made to submit STEM-based projects into the district-level Science and Engineering Fair with expectations for regional and state competitions to follow. DCHS is home to the longest-standing FRC Robotics Team in the district and has competed for the last eight years.

Westover Comprehensive High School: Westover works to incorporate STEM/STEAM activities not only through the Academy of Medical Arts, but also through its STEAM Club and robotics team. The WCHS STEAM Club will work on physics-based STEM projects this fall with an ASU professor. Students will work in collaboration with ASU professors to design projects based on physics and engineering concepts.

The Westover robotics team, the RoboPats, compete in two district competitions a year and went to the state competition after only two years. The team uses graphic design programs such as CAD and Inventor to make 3D models of the robots its members have designed and control the robot through wireless connections and individual laptops.

Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy: The 4C Academy’s goal is “to produce college-and-career-ready graduates with relevant skills and education needed to succeed today and in the future.” The academy’s robotics team was awarded the Georgia Rookie All Star team title last year, which secured the 4C Academy a place at the world competition in Houston. This summer, the school held two STEM camps with the goal of increasing the community’s and students’ participation in the sciences.

The 4C Academy also endeavors to collaborate with community partners such as the Flint RiverQuarium to help students’ understanding of relevant scientific concepts and increase success in science. Students who attend the academy have the opportunity to participate in STEM pathways, including computer programming, engineering, and engineering drafting and design.

The 4C Academy is also beginning the process for STEM certification at the state level.

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