Middleburg Academy's new STEAM initiative, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, is another approach to continue creating an environment in which students are given a holistic, creative education.
That's motivating us right now is what we are seeing happen in higher education;· said Head of School Colley Bell. "In essence, this is all about teaching our students how to learn. How to collaborate.”
For the small independent high school of 130 students, that entails increasing course offerings, creating new extra curricular activities and working with the rapid changes in how children of the 21st century learn. Laptops, iPhones and YouTube videos are all included in classroom study to encourage students to solve problems.
Bell said he believes without so many relatively new technologies, students are prevented from accessing most of the world's vital information. With an estimated 80 percent of future careers requiring some part of STEAM, learning these skills is essential.
"When you talk about college preparatory now, its much more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic;' Bell said. "It's binding all these new forces together. How schools are managing this is a real art. We're small enough and nimble enough to adapt to these new tools.” An over-arching theme of STEAM programs is creating collaboration, not only between students but also between students and faculty. The students themselves often ask for new elective offerings.
"As they go through a course and our discussions they begin to realize that they are interested in a specific topic and want to know how far they can take it;' said Bill Crum, chairman of the science department. Assistant Head of School Jan Healy described the academic atmosphere as stimulating, with students eager for more. As soon as new classes are offered, more ideas come into her office.
"We want dynamic, excited learners” she said. With self-directed study times and classrooms and libraries open for students after school and on weekends, Middleburg Academy has created the feeling of a college can1pus to prepare its students for that transition. How the classes are actually taught also encourages students to push themselves. In
math, students solve problems collaboratively in class. preventing them from feeling isolated if they arc struggling with a topic.
"I asked a class once should I continue talking about this topic or would you rather get started on problems and then get stuck; said Deriba Olana, chair of the math department "They said they would rather work and get stuck. That’s a huge shift from the method where you sit back and let the teacher talk and you may or may not understand it and then go home and tell your parents you hate math."
The science department is working to create new classes that introduce the most current research topics. A digital forensics class looks at how data bases work, how they can be hacked and how to trace back clues to find hackers. The neuroscience class is very popular among students and it’s more than just brain dissections of frogs.
"The course is not only introducing the students to the anatomy of the central nervous systems and of the brain but also to give them insight into what’s currently going on in the world. Crum said. "This sort of research is what’s getting a lot of grants.”
Middleburg Academy is working with Project Lead the Way. a non-profit organization that develops STEAM curricula including more engineering classes. A new course sequence starting with Fundamentals of Engineering will begin this next fall. In addition, a new computer science class "will also be offered and will be mandatory for all incoming ninth graders.
Adding art to the matrix of science, engineering and math also has generated a creative outlet for students interested in engineering and architectural design. For example, students’ work in and science classes to understand the concept of scaffolding. Then they learn how to create these renderings in art.
A new Museum Studies course delves into the artwork, but also explains how it’s transported, paid for and physically hung in an exhibition. While students might be enrolled in one course, that doesn’t prevent them from observing another.
"I don't keep all my classes separate:· said Wayne Paige, chairman of the art department. "Sometimes we have students from different classes together. I want to keep everything connected instead of putting each skill in separate. Boxes.”
Bell said he hopes to continue building an educational environment in which there is no learning in isolation. "Our approach is to get the right people in our faculty;' he said. "People who are passionate about this and will carry it forward.”