DALLAS TOWNSHIP -- There’s a brand new approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math at one school district in Luzerne County.
Just like students would normally have gym, art, and music classes, elementary schoolers in Dallas are now learning more about science and technology with a separate STEM class. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
Students in the Dallas School District pile into Mrs. Valkenburg’s classroom, ready for whatever challenges their new STEM coach throws at them.
The third graders tear into their latest project. Their task is to engineer a tunnel through a clay mountain.
“There are a lot of steps,” third-grader Patrick Bradshaw said. “You have to follow all of them or else everything gets messed up.”
STEM coach and teacher Nicole Valkenburg knows some kids need extra attention to make sure they’re following along. Having her STEM class stand alone gives students more time to engage.
“If you enrich students in a curriculum like this, they’re going to be more passionate about it and be more likely to do something where these careers are needed,” Valkenburg said.
Administrators said it also opens an opportunity for every student to shine.
“They may be an excellent communicator or they may be very skilled using the computer,” Superintendent Thomas Duffy said. “There’s an opportunity for each of our students to showcase their own strengths and talents.”
The STEM training isn’t just for students, it’s for teachers, too.
“For me, as a teacher, I think it allows me to incorporate things into the classroom that they’ll see in real life. Maybe they won’t be building tunnels through clay… but they will have to solve problems,” third-grade teacher Deb Manahan said.
Kids were using a lot more than clay to better understand math and science. They also use computers.
Third-grader Patrick Bradshaw said he already knows how to code a toy robot.
“I learned how to code in college and you’re learning to code and you’re 9-years-old! What do you have to say about that?” Newswatch 16 reporter Carolyn Blackburne asked.
“It’s just really fun and I really like it,” Bradshaw replied.
The district hopes to expand this program.
For now, Mrs. Valkenburg said she’s just happy to see some tiny hands rise up to answer a question.