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Boquet: STEM work develops needed critical thinkers

Terran Perry had one of those “aha” moments on the ride home from work one day.

His son, a student in the STEM program at Garyville-Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School, began telling his dad about his hypothesis. But what grabbed Perry’s attention was that he was not talking about a science experiment he had performed that day at school but about his own theory of how extending recess may lead to harder work in class.

Listening to his son use such vocabulary in casual conversation, as well as see his approach to problem-solving, was not only a rewarding moment for him as a father but also as principal of the school.

The STEM program at GMMS was revamped this year to make it a true STEM magnet. Students participate in science labs, computer labs and math labs at least once a week, work in the school’s hands-on Discovery Center, have science integrated in English, math and social studies lessons daily and are expected to take on advanced math classes.

Nearly halfway into the school year, it’s paying off. Students are excited about STEM and about getting their own laptops to continue learning beyond the classroom walls. Parents tell similar stories as Perry and have truly committed to the STEM education.

Nowhere was that more evident than at the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District’s Family STEM Night last week.

While GMMS may focus most intensely on STEM, all schools in the district incorporate STEM into their curriculum.

Most also allow students to explore their interests through extracurricular activities such as robotics clubs.

Family STEM Night is an opportunity for those students to lead experiments to share their knowledge with their families and other students and to interact with adults in the field from area companies and universities.

Going through pictures after the event, the value of STEM in keeping students interested and engaged was evident from the amount of shots with students standing with their mouths wide open in wonder.

That’s what pushes our faculty to be even more creative in the approach to teaching and learning, focusing on the “whys” in the classroom to help students solve bigger problems.

Students may utilize technology to put together presentations about various ways to solve a complex math problem, instead of just working it out one way on paper, and may communicate with teachers via online chats to drive home the point that in today’s world people who may never meet in person must sometimes work on projects and problem solve together via technology.

Students are now spending recess competing in games that teach the fundamentals of coding, in addition to traditional activities such as basketball and hanging out with friends.

All of this isn’t just a trendy new approach to education but a way to truly prepare students for the world in which they will live. Walking around his school, Perry tells me, he and his teachers no longer just see students but the astronauts, the developers, the military leaders and the chemists of the future.

These are the kinds of jobs that will be in-demand, pay well and require the critical thinkers and innovators our students are learning to be.

Jennifer Boquet is the communications specialist for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools. Email her at jboquet@stjohn.k12.la.us.