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STE(A)M, STEM, and Summit

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What is all the noise about STE(A)M and STEM? How do these contemporary educational buzz words fit into Summit Montessori’s programs, particularly programs for elementary-aged students? For the uninitiated,  the STEM acronym represents the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics into curriculum as a way of preparing students for their futures, futures in which the skills of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, and collaboration will be essential to success.  Many educators now add Art to the mix (hence, the A in STEAM) because art and design are viewed as essential to developing creativity and problem solving, as well as to creating the ability to envision a model, design it, and implement that design.

STE(A)M programs are popping up all over, some of them rich integrations of curriculum that are truly student-centered and some mere lip-service pop-ups.  As is always the case in the world of “hot” educational trends, implementation ranges from the excellent to profit-motivated fluff.

At Summit Montessori we are investigating ways to more fully integrate all elements of STE(A)M programming into our curriculum. We are currently particularly proud of our very strong Mathematics program which begins with core Montessori concrete materials and advances older students gradually and systematically into abstract mathematical constructs and thinking. We are also rightly proud of our Science program, which in the elementary years is carefully integrated into what Dr. Montessori referred to as the “Cosmic Curriculum” in which the child learns to appreciate the interdependence of all living and non-living things through impressionistic lessons and the studies of botany, zoology, and the physical sciences.  We are additionally rightfully pleased with our outstanding visual Arts program, which begins with fundamental expressive art experiences in the Children’s House classrooms and extends during the elementary years into Studio Art in which students design and engineer projects rooted in their own visions.

Two areas that we have designated for further investigation are Engineering and Technology. To this end, and to the end of more fully articulating Summit’s STE(A)M program, we are currently undertaking a bold initiative. As Head of School I have convened a Technology Task Force composed of teachers and administrators and supported by outside specialists; our goal is to thoroughly study ways in which we are currently using educational technology in our elementary programs and ways in which we can further integrate technology into our curriculum in meaningful ways.  Joan Tansi, Lower Elementary Co-Lead Teacher, who has extensive experience in incorporating robotics, engineering, and coding into Montessori settings, co-chairs this Task Force with me.   

Our goal, through internal study and conversation, external field trips and attendance at workshops, along with reflection on Montessori philosophy, pedagogy, and curriculum, is to develop a Summit Montessori position statement on technology and to make specific recommendations for implementation of new programs and approaches to begin during the 2016-17 school year.

We are grateful and quite fortunate to be supported in this work by a recent $25,000 restricted gift from the Dixon family, to be used to design and implement appropriate use of leading edge technology into our Montessori elementary programs, as we find such technologies to be developmentally appropriate, learner centered, and philosophically intact.

Our work will be forwarded this month through the Task Force Co-Chairs’ attendance at a weekend conference entitled “A Montessori Integrated Approach to Science, Mathematics, Technology, and the Environment” organized by the North American Montessori Teachers Association and held in Portland, OR.

Ideally in a Montessori environment, elementary students come to see mathematics, science, the visual arts, and technology as relevant and meaningful components of their world, not just discrete disciplines.  Excellent Montessori environments provide opportunities for students to apply academic disciplines to real situations that are relevant to their world and that are presented from their own perspective to make sense of their world. Our goal in investigating and forwarding this important work is to make sure that we are doing just this.  Please stay tuned for further exciting details as the spring and summer progress.