STEM classes show students world of possibility

PSD staff members share insights on the district’s science and technology initiatives

Staff writerMay 7, 2014 

Kopachuck Middle School’s Joy Giovanini couldn’t resist being in “teacher mode” and having attendees try some activities at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s weekly breakfast meeting.

Giovanini teaches robotics and forensics at Kopachuck. She screened a video from her forensics class and challenged the audience to use the power of observation to seek clues in a whodunit video.

She’s not merely preparing students to be crime scene investigators, though. It’s about fostering a wider world view.

“Forensics is all about changing the way you look at the world,” she said.

The video exercise is a practice used in one of many Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes offered in the district. Giovanini, along with Goodman Middle School Principal Scott McDaniel, talked about STEM options at the chamber’s Public Affairs forum at Cottesmore of Life Care.

McDaniel and Giovanini were substitutes for the day after Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto called in sick and couldn’t speak about the bond and levy options on the ballot in August. Cuzzetto’s talk has been rescheduled May 29.

McDaniel said he was excited to address STEM education. It’s been a buzzword in education circles and he unpacked what the term means for area schools.

Giovanini stressed that STEM options in schools, at all levels, are a key to future success for students. Jobs in fields such as health care and computer science are open for students exposed to different types of skills.

Giovanini passed out a statistic sheet which included a snapshot of the disparity between available STEM field jobs and a lack of prepared students.

“I think numbers say quite a bit,” she said. “Something, I think, we don’t realize is it’s to a crisis point.”

One of Giovanini’s numbers showed that growth in STEM field jobs has been three times higher than non-STEM jobs. It also said that out of every 100 ninth-graders to graduate from college, only six earn a STEM degree.

Giovanini said she hopes to change that. In her work with eighth-graders, she teaches how to use robotic rovers and forensic tools.

McDaniel said the district is working to prepare students for the workforce in areas such as science and math. By 2015, he said, all schools will have computer labs that can run computer-aided design programs. The district has programs that include Google SketchUp and a 3-D printer.

With those programs, students at Gig Harbor High School created blue, icicle-shaped sunglasses for Winterfest. The intersection of the real world and the classroom drives home curriculum.

“We’re … giving them a tangible way where they can create and produce something,” he said.

The question, inevitably, is asked: What does this all mean for arts programs?

McDaniel said that with all of the class options available and a limited number of periods to enroll, it’s a tough choice for students.

“Does this have an impact? Yes, it does,” McDaniel said.

However, he said, music-class enrollment numbers are up at Goodman. The real keys to a broad education are guidance counselors. The STEM classes are “interest-based,” meaning students sign up for them as non-required courses, but students are also aware of artistic options.

From Giovanini’s perspective, it’s not a question of art versus science. It’s about putting together whole people through an education. Students are finding out who they are, and STEM options may expose them to new ideas and paths.

“The courses can be a beneficial piece of their puzzle,” Giovanini said. “We’re all about keeping doors open for students.”

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155 karen.miller@gateline.com

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