Full STEAM ahead at Tope

Tope Elementary School was searching for a unique way to get kids excited about learning. It had to benefit students growing up in the 21st century and fit the D51 Learning Model in a way that suited Tope’s population.

The answer was to begin a three-year transformation to become a STEAM school starting this fall. STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math, helps students grow modern skills that will be valuable for the rest of their lives.

“STEAM creates a 21st century learner who is ready for those fields that are in high demand and makes sure they’re prepared not only academically, but socially and emotionally,” said Tope Principal Carrie Bollinger.

Tope is one of several schools in the district and across the country embracing STEAM. Kids still learn the things they normally would in elementary school, just in a different way. STEAM schools focus on learning in ways that incorporate design, creativity, and problem solving.

Problem solving will be a theme throughout all grades at Tope during this first year of STEAM transformation. Teachers will ask students to pick a problem in their community, explore the topic, and work to find a possible solution to the problem. Each problem-solving activity will weave in lessons about math, science, social studies, and/or language.

Students will also work with their classmates to dream up and build projects in a classroom set aside as a new MakerSpace (pictured here) at the school. The room is equipped with craft supplies, a computer, books and various items kids can use to “play, build, dream, and create” Principal Bollinger said.

The John McConnell Math and Science Center of Western Colorado, which plans to move in down the street from Tope at the new Colorado Mesa University Engineering Building, will also help with Tope’s transformation. A STEM coordinator from the center will come to classrooms once a week to co-teach science with teachers, and the center is offering STEAM camps for elementary students during early release on Wednesdays.

While the future of Tope’s STEAM transformation has yet to be determined, Bollinger said she would love to expand programming to include robotics, coding, and more science and technology themes.

More examples of STEM/STEAM programs in D51

·         Central High School has a slate of classes for students who are interested in pursuing a career in a STEM-related field. Students can earn college credit while preparing for a STEM major. Twenty-seven teachers are working toward or have completed their National Certification for STEM Education (NCST) along with another 35 who have completed Project Based Learning (PBL) training with the Buck Institute. By the beginning of the 2018 school year, Central will be the first school in Colorado to obtain National Institute for STEM Education campus-wide certification.

·         New Emerson has been a STEAM magnet school for six years and a partner with the Math and Science Center for seven years. Students have the option of mixed grade levels and enrichment opportunities and focus on inquiry, problem solving, experiential learning, collaboration, and critical thinking. New Emerson is also adding a Maker’s Space this year.

·         West Middle School students integrate STEM by learning in ways that focus on problem solving in all subjects. Examples of STEM in classrooms include robotics in tech education, Shark Tank-style product design presentations in eighth-grade math, guitar and amp design in advanced tech education, and Hour of Code activities.