Highlands Blog

STEM at Highlands

Kavita Vasil
Through Highlands 21, we will proactively support and promote the advancement of our programming through enhanced facilities, classroom resources and faculty development that will boost our efforts to bring textbooks to life through interactive, hands-on, real world learning activities that integrate academic disciplines – beginning with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

What is STEM?
STEM represents the integration of science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM education is not just one thing – it is an approach to learning that removes the traditional barriers separating the four disciplines and integrates them into real-world, rigorous, relevant learning experiences for students.[1] STEM allows teachers the opportunity to organize curriculum where the disciplinary concepts become interconnected and interdependent, and the lines between the disciplines become blurred.  STEM is 21st century learning at its best – pulling content and standards out of the textbook and bringing them to life through interactive and collaborative cross curricular units of study. It is real world, hands on experiential learning for a 21st century global society. 
How will the STEM Program work?
Lower Elementary (4K, Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade):  Lower elementary students will be introduced to STEM concepts through guided collaborative learning experiences. LEGO Education components will be integrated into each classroom as centers or small group explorations.  Topics vary per grade level, but all teachers will increase STEM awareness through the Everyday STEM professional development series, which will provide strategies for integrating STEM into lessons across the curriculum.
Elementary (3rd, 4th, 5th):  With the construction of a new STEM Lab located in our main Learning Center building, students in grades 3rd-5th will participate in a project-based STEM curriculum.  Students will be engaged in team-based, small-group units of study (Missions) in a cooperative-learning environment.  These solutions integrate with existing state and national standards while allowing for teacher flexibility.  Each hands-on exploration is accompanied by real-world STEM curricular activities that demonstrate relevance. The integration of technology is an essential component to facilitating each of the Missions.
Middle School (6th, 7th, 8th grades):  With the conversion of a classroom into a middle school STEM Lab, our STEM program will allow students to explore life, earth, and physical sciences with hands-on projects and computer-directed learning.  The STEM science lab will provide an environment for collaborative pair explorations.  These solutions integrate with existing state and national standards while allowing for teacher flexibility.  The STEM middle school education Modules will be multimedia curricula reinforced with hands-on activities.  In addition to the computer-based curriculum, Module workstations will include required equipment, materials, reference texts, and supplies.   All middle school STEM Modules are developed to address standards in multiple subject areas such as math, science, technology, and careers.  With this versatile cross-correlation in the curriculum content design, our  students will gain additional knowledge in core subjects that broaden and strengthen their overall knowledge base beyond the focused content.
A STEM lab environment and curricular program at Highlands School for our 3rd-5th grade as well as middle school students will allow:
  • Students to collaborate as a team where the knowledge is integrated and applied in interactive learning Missions (3rd-5th) and Modules (middle school) that represent the application they will experience in real life (real world application across disciplines)
  • Students to identify scientific problems then collaborate in small groups to come up with a solution
  • Teachers to serve as mentors, guides, and coaches assisting students who are eager to discuss challenges their group may be having as they work through their curricular unit of study
  • Students to acquire skills and knowledge through exploration, implementation and creative instruction
  • Students of varying skill sets, the tinkerer, the intellect, the writer, and the artist, to all have an important role to play as they work together
What is the first step in implementing the next level of STEM programming at Highlands?
We will continue to keep you up to date with information about these new initiatives for Highlands as they become implemented.  Construction on two new STEM Labs will begin immediately at the end of this school year, STEM professional development faculty training will be held this summer, and we will be offering a special STEM Camp the week of August 3rd -7th.  The STEM Camp will introduce our amazing, cutting-edge program and new STEM labs to our entire Highlands School Community.  The STEM Camp will be for Highlands School students only and will be offered free of charge (with maximum enrollment limits for the lab experience) and give students and teachers a STEM experience (with STEM PD consultants on hand) in our new labs and with the materials and curriculum.  Parents will also have an opportunity during STEM Camp to come and check out the new spaces and watch STEM in action.  More information to follow.
Our new STEM facilities and advanced curriculum represent just one phase of our strategic plan commitment to stay at the forefront of 21st century learning. As we get fully vested with STEM, we will begin integrating the arts into a transdisciplinary approach using project-based learning and problem-based learning.  The latest educational “acronym” hitting the educational world is STREAMS – Science, Technology, Reading/Research, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Service- with the addition of service learning, research and literacy.  We are excited about the limitless inter- and cross-curricular opportunities ahead, and continuing to advance our one of a kind, transdisciplinary program.
These are exciting times for Highlands School and on behalf of the entire faculty and staff,  I thank you for your trust and support.
Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.