Implementing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts has been a hallmark of Jasper Jr. High’s educational model for years. The school was even named a Cognia Internationally Certified STEM School in December 2019; however, when the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year, teachers had to rethink STEM education.
Students went virtual-only to finish out the 2019-20 school year, and the school system has had a blended educational model for the current school year with some students attending school and others learning at home.
STEM implementation often involves group activities, so teachers have had to be even more creative this year to make sure hands-on learning continued. Still, Jasper Jr. High Principal Lutis Moore says COVID-19 has significantly impacted STEM goals.
“We spent roughly a year and a half researching and putting into practice just changing our whole way of teaching, instruction and delivery, and learning,” Moore said of the school’s path to becoming STEM certified. “With COVID, that essentially just took us back to the stone ages and what we were trying to get away from. It’s hard for us to get back to where we were because we made this significant investment in changing our whole instructional approach.”
Science teachers Lori Wiginton, Jessica Yeager, Wendi Brown and Kendra Dove said they have all continued STEM activities, regardless of how the educational model has changed this year.
“We’ve been a little bit limited with COVID, just not being able to get the kids together in large groups. We’ve done some partner work and tried to social distance,” Wiginton said. “I’ve sent them videos of us actually doing the labs here, and I talk through it with them as if they were part of it.”
Wiginton’s STEM activities have focused on speed, motion and electricity.
One group of students were able to socially distance and make balloon-powered race cars. Other students created cars to calculate speed.
Life science students created 3D cell models, and some physical science students explored the engineering design process to make a water filter for a bottle.
One instructor is also preparing for students to participate in STEM activities related to anatomy.
Wiginton said this school year has brought a lot of changes, but she proclaims it’s her favorite year so far, due to more one-on-one time with students.
“I feel like I talk more with the kids than I would when they’re sitting in the classroom and I have 30 in the classroom. You don’t really get to bond with every child, and when we started off with small numbers and I had five, six or 10 in a classroom, you get to know those kids who otherwise don’t speak up,” she said. “I feel closer to the kids this year.”
Dove said motivating students is imperative, especially while many are learning at home, and she and other teachers have done whatever it takes to help maintain student achievement.
“I actually had the opportunity to go out in the community and work with the kids. When we were all the way shut down, I was sitting out in parking lots with kids doing work,” Dove said. “It was the only way we could get things done and make sure they had their work. I got to know the kids and the parents on a different level.”
Moore said he hopes additional STEM activities will occur this semester, and he expressed his gratitude to everyone for striving to continue some sense of normalcy during such a non-traditional school year.
“I want to commend all of our teachers. They’ve done a phenomenal job going above and beyond and being really flexible with all the conditions that we’re going through right now,” he said. “There’s nothing easy about being a teacher right now — or a healthcare worker and all the essential employees.
“I’m also appreciative of our parents. We’re trying videos, we’re trying conferencing, we’re trying home visits. We’re trying a lot of different things that we’re just not accustomed to, but we’re doing it because we’re all here for the right reason, for what’s best, and that’s the betterment of the child.”
BY NICOLE SMITH
DAILY MOUNTAIN EAGLE