2016-10-15 / News

Austin school embraces future

Austin Area School District is taking steps to extend its award-winning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to the entire student body.

A new STEM lab for elementary students will soon be developed in the school library. It includes hardware, software, scientific equipment and hands-on construction kits.

Austin received $228,000 in federal funding to extend its STEM learning to younger students. The lab will be equipped with many of the same tools available in the high school STEM facility, which includes a 3-D printer, computer-aided drawing software and a laser engraver.

“Our program has been very successful and now it’s growing,” explained School Superintendent Jerry Sasala. “Scheduling was becoming an issue because so many students and instructors wanted to have access to the lab.”

As part of the grant, new tables and chairs will be purchased for the library. New carpeting has also been installed. Installation is expected to get underway in early December.

Through the STEM program, students use skills such as communication, critical thinking, literacy and creativity to solve real-world problems across multiple academic disciplines.

In a related matter, the school’s heralded Project- Based Learning (PBL) initiative continues to excel.

PBL combines community activities and hands-on projects with a broader educational curriculum. Emphasis is on communication, problem solving, team building and practical solutions to problems and challenges.

Four groups of students are working on separate PBL projects, which include an agricultural greenhouse, a habitat restoration for monarch butterflies, and school and community improvements.

The greenhouse group plans to grow vegetables to supplement the school lunch program while teaching students about agriculture. Last year, a $3,000 state grant was secured to help pay for the construction of the greenhouse. Students were involved with the grant application process and learned to read blueprints to help build the structure.

This year, students are using the high tunnel to grow flowers as part of a Main Street beautification project.

The habitat restoration project will design, create and build a memorial butterfly garden that can also be used as an outdoor learning area.

Students will learn about butterfly life cycles and reasons for population loss. They may raise butterflies for release upon graduation, and tag and track butterfly migration using GPS or sticker tags.

A butterfly garden with benches, flowering plants and a small pond are also in the works.

In another innovation, Austin teachers met with instructors from the Penn’s Valley School District to discuss a new type of instruction known as a “flipped classroom.”

It’s a teaching strategy and type of blended learning that incorporates online instructional content. Students watch lectures on an I-Pad, use applications specifically tailored to their individual needs, collaborate in online discussions, and engage in activities with the guidance of a mentor.

Students who are absent from school are able to watch the lesson at home so they are able to keep pace with their fellow students.

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