Bankhead Middle seeking STEM certification

Posted 12/13/18

CORDOVA — Bankhead Middle School's eighth-graders learned a lot about history and public speaking while preparing for last week's Living Wax Museum, but the project also put their knowledge of …

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Bankhead Middle seeking STEM certification


CORDOVA — Bankhead Middle School's eighth-graders learned a lot about history and public speaking while preparing for last week's Living Wax Museum, but the project also put their knowledge of other subjects to the test.

In science class, for example, they engineered plans for displaying the backdrops for their characters in the gymnasium. In math, they created a schedule for the day.

The Living Wax Museum was an example of the kind of cross-curricular activity that every grade will be doing each nine weeks as the school seeks to become STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) certified through AdvancED, a school accrediting organization.

Principal Amber Freeman said the school already does many of the things that will be required to earn the certification, such as project-based learning and integrating technology into coursework.

"This just takes it a step further by incorporating a cross-curricular approach and giving the students one cross-curricular activity to complete every nine weeks," Freeman said.

While eighth-graders were getting ready for the Living Wax Museum, fifth- and sixth-grade students were working on projects related to the novels they were reading.

When school reopens in January, seventh-grade students will be working on plans for a library that could be housed in the old Armory building in Cordova. The city has not had a library since the April 2011 tornadoes.

All students, including those with special needs, will be given access to the various activities. 

"Through these projects, the students realize how interconnected different subjects are, which makes them have a better understanding of why they're at school and how to apply what they are learning so that they can be college and career ready when they get out of school," Freeman said.

Bankhead's monthly club days will also be considered in the STEM certification process.

The goal of Club Day is to offer students learning experiences that would be difficult to incorporate in a normal school day. Most of the day is dedicated to club activities, and students are required to choose a different club to attend each month. 

Teachers sponsor clubs designed to appeal to a range of interests — robotics, sign language, journalism, coding, graphic arts, basic home finance, hunting and fishing safety, local politics, philanthropy. 

One of Bankhead's biggest STEM successes in recent years has been the robotics team, which was established in 2012.

The team, recently renamed Devils I.C.E. Robotics, brought home several trophies from the Bevill BEST competition held in Fayette in October. The team finished 27th out of 60 teams representing five states at the South's BEST Regional Robotics Championship held in Auburn earlier this month.

The team reached its goal of placing in the top 10 in at least two events and improved in almost all areas of competition. 

Sponsor Amber Parsons has found ways to include students who aren't officially on the team.

"Every student in the seventh- and eighth-grade had some part in the BEST competition this year, whether it was making signs, helping with the robot, painting stuff for the booth or painting crayon turtles that we gave away in the booth," Parsons said.

Until this year, the team's activities have been confined to one six-week period in the early fall while they prepare for BEST.

Concerned about the brain drain that students were experiencing from year to year, Parsons has now found two additional opportunities for team members to continue using their knowledge of programming and other skills.

On Saturday, some members of the team competed in their first VEX IQ competition, where they finished 27th out of 30 teams. 

VEX IQ is a system akin to LEGO or K'Nex that can serve as an introduction to robots and coding. 

The team purchased two VEX IQ kits with a $1,500 robotics grant from the Alabama Department of Education. Some of the grant was also used to purchase kits to build an underwater vehicle for the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) competition that will be held in the spring. 

While the robotics team includes students from Bankhead and Cordova High School, the newest competitions will be limited to middle school students.

"This is really giving our younger students an opportunity to learn and contribute," Parsons said.