STEM positively challenges T.R. Simmons students


The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum is boosting student engagement in Jasper City Schools.

This week, Jasper City Board of Education members and Superintendent Dr. Ann Jackson have visited city schools to learn about the integration of STEM activities. On Wednesday, board members Walker Wilson, Teresa Sherer, Mary Beth Barber, Jackson and Rita Pilling, director of accountability programs and support services for Jasper City Schools, went to T.R. Simmons Elementary, where a classroom has been specifically dedicated to teach the frameworks of STEM.

Vicki Howard, a retired educator and STEM volunteer at T.R. Simmons, spoke about how STEM helps students develop motor skills and problem solve in environment that encourages teamwork.   

"I think it's an investment in our kids, I really do," Howard said.

In the STEM specific classroom at the school, Howard guided kindergarten students Wednesday as they used colorful straws and connector pieces to form a structure that they would then top with foil to provide shade and block light. The activity touched on every facet of STEM.

"There was actually about four different standards in there that we were intentionally hitting this morning," Howard said.

The educator noted that some students could not spell their names or count to five at the beginning of the school year, but STEM activities have allowed the students to broaden their knowledge in an fun and interactive environment.   

School board members toured other classrooms at T.R. where students were working with shapes, blocks and even cups to keep them engaged while learning specific skills. Many of the students were using iPads as part of the instruction, which Howard commended as a tool to broaden each student's use of technology. 

"I have not been to another school system where every child has an iPad in K-1. I can't tell you what a difference that makes in these kids," she said. "What I see here, I take back to my other schools. ... There's a lot of good things going on here."

T.R. Simmons Principal Meagan Fields said she is thankful to Howard for volunteering her time at the school, as well as the school's teachers for using STEM in lesson planning.

The school plans to grow its STEM lab in the coming months.  

"It's such a powerful tool," Fields said of STEM.

All schools in Jasper City are implementing STEM activities.

More recently, STEM has been referred to as STEAM education, with some schools placing an emphasis on the arts as well.