A delegation of educators from Belarus, seeking ways to boost innovation and economic development and cultivate a competitive workforce, visited Allendale Columbia School because of its reputation as the best school to visit for its “bottom-up” approach to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), which formally begins in Kindergarten.
STEM-based education is a very new notion in Belarus, an Eastern European country bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Young people have limited access to STEM-based education due to lack of resources and trained teachers. The goal of this visit was to introduce Belarusian professionals to innovative practices of promoting and implementing STEM-based education programs for school-age children in the United States.
Even in the U.S., it’s estimated that 2.4 million STEM jobs are going unfilled. According to Pew Research, one of the biggest cross-national tests, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), placed the U.S. 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science, and out of the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science. In addition, 78% of high school graduates don’t meet benchmark readiness in math, science, or English. Also of concern is the disproportionately small number of girls/women and minorities in STEM fields.
The solution, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and many industry experts, is to begin STEM education at an earlier age. In that, AC is a known leader.
AC Lower School Director of STEM Sue Sorrentino and Lead STEM Teacher Donna Chaback, who have hosted dozens of these types of visits for U.S. and foreign schools, began with an overview of the Lower School program, which begins with basic concepts of navigation using colorful and friendly-looking Bee-Bots in Kindergarten (even Nursery and Pre-kindergarten students are introduced to them in the second half of the school year). They demonstrated a full progression of increasingly advanced concepts and, very importantly, hands-on, team-based problem-solving experiences with a variety of robotics systems, based on the students’ developmental stage through to fifth grade.
“We believe firmly in a bottom-up approach, starting at an early age with age-appropriate experiences,” said Sorrentino. “Children are naturally curious problem-solvers. We teach twenty-first century skills that they can build on, like innovation and collaboration. Students who go through our program are able to tackle much more complex problems when they get to Middle and Upper School.”
Eyes lit up as the delegates heard what young learners were able to do. Their questions ranged from structural issues like the amount of time students spend in STEM education to questions about the progression of programming and how learning is evaluated.
Maya Crosby, the Director of AC’s Invent Center for STEM and Innovation, and Kate Western, Interim Director of the AC Center for Global Engagement, then introduced the visitors to a panel of Middle School and Upper School students. The delegates wanted to know more about how these student’s experience in early STEM education helped them solve engineering problems. Next, the delegates visited with a Middle School physical science class doing a lab on mineral identification. These students were able to demonstrate how the focus of STEM education at Allendale Columbia School is on the “how” of science. Teacher Teresa Parsons explained to the delegates that the goal of the lab was on developing the skills used, not on memorization of content. Finally, the delegates toured the Middle School and the Upper School robotics design and building rooms to see the current space exploration themed challenges students are working on in their FIRST Robotics competition teams.
At the conclusion of their visit, Head of School Mick Gee talked about how Allendale Columbia prioritizes “can-do” versus “must-do”. “Instead of teaching more and more curriculum, we have to be intentional about providing opportunities throughout the curriculum for students to do their own projects, do their own research. We want to give students opportunities to be a scientist, to be an engineer, not just learn about science and engineering.”
Our local partner, Rochester Global Connections, provided some reactions from the group. Two of the delegates mentioned that AC is what they would like their schools to look like in the near future. Another delegate expressed how extremely impressed they were with Sue’s and Donna’s presentation. “The work they are doing is innovative and incredible, and the concepts discussed will be truly useful in helping to structure our own curriculum with children.” During the last action planning session, about half of the group highlighted AC as the best site visit they had throughout the Rochester portion of the program. They were thrilled to have the opportunity to observe a robotics activity and interact with the kids in a classroom setting.
A strong partner with the AC Center for Global Engagement, Rochester Global Connections, helped facilitate the Rochester portion of their tour. Rochester Global Connections is a non-profit organization that works with the U.S. Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and U.S. embassies abroad as a liaison between international visitors and their Rochester-area counterparts. The tour was sponsored by the Community Connections Program of USAID, and was funded through USAID’S Bureau of Education Growth and Trade (EGAT)/Office of Education. The broad public diplomacy goal of the Community Connections Program is to contribute to economic and democratic reform and to promote mutual understanding through exposure to U.S. society and personal connections with Americans and participant countries.
Photos by Zhanna Ivanova from Rochester Global Connections and John Palomaki.
Posted in: Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Fifth Grade, First Grade, Fourth Grade, Global Engagement, Highlights, Invent, Kindergarten, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Partnerships, Second Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Third Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School