Dartmouth Middle School (DMS) in San Jose has slowly but steadily been building up their STEM portfolio of classes and clubs. Now with two full-time STEM teachers who offer nine different quarter-long classes along with seven before/after school clubs and classes, the school is a bona-fide STEM powerhouse. Most of DMS’s classes are based on the nationwide program, Project Lead The Way (PLTW).
The goal of the DMS STEM program is to expose all students to the creative and social impactfulness of science and engineering as well as provide more depth and fluency in these fields. “We’ve noticed that students, especially the girls, really gravitate towards the projects that have a creative and local impact”, explains Tracy Brown who teaches the green architecture and flight/space classes. Most of the courses have a capstone project where the students use their new skills to develop a solution for a client, and the results have been quite impressive. Last year a female student who took the design/modeling class developed a dry-erase holder that is currently patent-pending.
One of the most exciting characteristics of the program is that the classes are on the exploratory wheel so the classes usually have as many girls enrolled in them as boys. DMS has the philosophy that middle school is the perfect time for children to be open to all kinds of skills to see what resonates and what doesn’t. Then they can elect their classes in high school with more background knowledge. In addition to the STEM classes, DMS also has an award-winning band program and a selection of drama and cultural literacy classes on the exploratory wheel.
A team of fifteen girls, called the STEM Girls, have put together a presentation where they enthusiastically demonstrate the breadth of the DMS program. They also gush about their new STEM building that just opened in January. It has a very open and green design, complete with solar tubes, nanawalls, and all natural wall coverings. “The building looks like a Google or Facebook office. The kids are just so excited to work and create in the space. They’ve joked that they never want to leave it.”, says Pam Rissmann who teaches the design/modeling, robotics, and computer science courses.
Currently there is a shortage of women in STEM fields. This is particularly true for physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. The nerdy, Big Bang Theory stereotypes don’t help the cause. However, these girls have discovered the fun and coolness of designing and discovering, and they are now working to dispel this long worn, overused image of the scientist and engineer.
The STEM Girls next speaking gig will be on April 23 at the Santa Clara County STEAM Symposium. Please contact Pam Rissmann at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about the STEM Girls.