Saint Albert the Great School is one of 54 schools in Ohio to earn state recognition for STEM education.
The Governor’s Thomas Edison Awards for Excellence in STEM Education and Student Research, as chosen by The Ohio Academy of Science, recognizes schools and teachers that provide ample opportunities for hands-on learning and educational opportunities that extend beyond typical classroom activities. As part of the award, 20 Saint Albert teachers were recognized for their work in STEM education and student excellence.
STEM education focuses on four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At Saint Albert’s, this translates to project-based, student-focused work where teachers act more as a guide to their curious students.
“A bigger picture piece of what STEM education looks like at Saint Albert the Great School is that we’re changing what typical instruction looks like. It’s about active engagement and having the students be involved in their own learning,” said Principal Ed Vittardi. “The greatest change is in how our students are learning. Our design programs have kids being able to design what their projects look like. It’s more of, ‘these are the supplies you’ve got,’ instead of ‘here’s what you’re going to do with them.’ They are actively involved in their learning, which is key. I think kids today, and adults for that matter, are in general so concerned in getting things right, but it’s so important for kids to fail, try another way and learn from what went wrong. The more opportunities we give our kids to be creative, to create and develop and find things that work and find things that don’t work, is all part of their learning process. STEM education is not a fad. I do believe that it is changing how we all look at instruction and how we put it into the hands of the children.”
The application process for the Governor’s Thomas Edison Awards was lengthy, educators noted, and required criteria like involvement in a local science fair, qualification in district science days and active participation in science opportunities beyond the classroom, according to information released by The Ohio Academy of Science. Carri Metcalfe, Saint Albert teacher and STEM coordinator, touched on projects that have youngsters thinking more like scientists. Metcalfe and a handful of other Saint Albert teachers were also recognized by the state.
“In the Extreme Games event, for example, students were challenged to create a full-size playable golf hole using only cardboard and other recycled materials. We also had kitchen chemistry where students were challenged to create a healthy dessert. Our recipe for cupcakes was actually used by the diocese for a retirement party,” she said. “Our students also participated in an invention convention where it’s run like they are selling their ideas to investors. For ‘Rockin’ Roller Coaster, students created a coaster out of recycled materials and demonstrated their knowledge of kinetics and energy.”
Vittardi also noted the many after-school activities that have students creating and tinkering.
“Our STEM-related clubs have seen the most growth,” he said. “These clubs are extending their learning and they’re filling so fast. There’s more interest than people able to run them.”
The school has a “Makerspace” that includes a 3-D printer, a Roland vinyl cutter with a tee shirt press, a laser cutter, poster printer and kits for “Bee Bots,” “Ozobot” and “Little Bits,” Metcalfe said. The school also maintains a partnership with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District studying watersheds, ecology and conservation. The school’s programming is driven by a parent/community STEM 2020 Committee comprised of individuals in STEM fields such as pharmacy, engineering and medicine.
“The real world is working with others, creativity, problem-solving. Our kids are going out into careers that haven’t even been developed yet,” Vittardi said of the lifelong benefits of a STEM education. “Employers aren’t looking for one particular set of skills I don’t think anymore. They want the problem-solvers, the creators, the individuals who can work with others and collaborate. Really, all of these skills extend to all fields.”
Contributing Writer