published Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Students, teachers get acclimated with STEM

Gisell Garcia and Chanel Blackmon, students at Hamilton County's new STEM school, a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, build a robot at a STEM summer camp at Chattanooga State Community College on Friday. The group controls its robot with a cell phone and once completed, it will be able to draw letters and shapes.
Gisell Garcia and Chanel Blackmon, students at Hamilton County's new STEM school, a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, build a robot at a STEM summer camp at Chattanooga State Community College on Friday. The group controls its robot with a cell phone and once completed, it will be able to draw letters and shapes.
Photo by Allison Love.

WHO'S IN

Students were selected for Hamilton County's STEM school through a lottery process that ensured representation across all zoned high schools. Here is the breakdown of students who will attend in August:

By gender

* Boys: 38

* Girls: 35

By school

* Brainerd: 11

* Central: 12

* East Ridge: 12

* East Hamilton: 6

* Ooltewah: 2

* Howard: 8

* Hixson: 5

* Soddy-Daisy: 7

* Signal Mountain: 1

* Red Bank: 5

* Lookout Valley: 1

* Tyner: 1

* Transfer: 2

Source: STEM school

The first day at a new school is always a little nerve-wracking. But students at Hamilton County's new science, technology, engineering and math school will know most of their peers and teachers when school begins on Aug. 13.

About 60 of the 75 ninth-graders in the STEM school's inaugural class attended a three-day camp this week at Chattanooga State Community College, also the site of the under-construction high school. While students participated in hands-on projects like building robots and designing video games, they also got acclimated to peers and teachers.

"It makes me feel better. I'm glad I came to camp because I wouldn't have known anybody," said Gisell Garcia, a STEM student originally zoned for Tyner High School. She said she's attending the new school because of her interest in technology and engineering; she wants to become a radiology technician.

STEM teachers said the school brought in a diverse mix of students from different backgrounds and abilities.

"We really have a true representation of the entire county," said math teacher Stacy Hill, formerly a teacher at Red Bank High School and now a STEM teacher.

The possibility of starting from scratch drew her to the program, she said, and the staff has spent much of the summer designing the curriculum and programming of the new school.

"I think I liked the idea of being able to create from the ground up. Everything is new," Hill said.

Hill and art teacher Nicelle Price-Gray, formerly a teacher at Howard School, said they felt privileged to be selected to teach at the STEM school. It initially will employ teachers in special education, math, science, social studies, English and art, along with a few support and administrative employees.

Much of the coursework will be based in hands-on projects, drawing teachers from different disciplines to teach lessons on the same piece of work. Teachers said it's an integrated approach, though they still will have separate classes.

Hill might introduce math concepts in building robots, for instance, while the English teacher could have students use technical writing to describe how the robotics work and Price-Gray teaches design concepts.

The school is starting out with about 75 freshmen and will add another 75 students each fall until reaching a capacity of about 300 students. Principal Tony Donen said construction on the school, located in the former Olan Mills building, is on schedule to be ready by the first day of school.

Teachers should have about three four-week units -- lessons and projects designed around a specific topic -- prepared by opening day, Donen said, but future units will incorporate the cooperation and input of area businesses.

"Our goal is to build as many units as possible with businesses," Donen said.

To acquire a $1.8 million state grant to help fund the new program, Hamilton County had to show evidence of partnerships with higher education, local businesses and the philanthropic community. The school and its associated "hub" are aimed at advancing STEM education throughout the region and ultimately produce a better-prepared workforce.

Morgan Catlin, a Chattanooga State instructor who led robotics work at the three-day camp, said such work tests students' logical thinking abilities by working between the physical and electronic worlds. But students also find added motivation in designing and completing a project of their own.

"In a lot of classes, we consume, consume, consume. This is something they create," he said. "It's a new way to do high school."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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