Maple Crest Re-Certification 2021

Maple Crest STEM Middle School, which earned its original STEM certification in 2016, recently earned recertification status from the Indiana Department of Education.

The IDOE’s STEM Certified Schools program prioritizes the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines – critical to preparing students for 21st Century success. STEM Certified schools exemplify a highly non-traditional approach to education by employing a great deal of inquiry, project-based learning, community engagement, entrepreneurship, student-centered classrooms, and out-of-school STEM activities. 

“Evolving into a STEM school environment is much more than introducing a program,” the IDOE noted in its most recent STEM Certification guide. “For schools, this requires establishing a common local agenda to significantly improve student performance, incorporating STEM education at all levels, engaging local businesses and the community, and adopting new curriculum and instructional practices. A school’s success depends on prioritizing STEM and putting effective models that best meet student needs in place.”

Principal Tom Hughes noted that the recertification is the product of Maple Crest’s continued development of its STEM curriculum during the past five years (since the initial STEM certification).

“We have continued to improve our curricular opportunities and build on existing partnerships with community organizations,” Principal Hughes explained. “We now have 100 percent of our students participating in STEM projects throughout the school year.”

Maple Crest prioritized expanding STEM opportunities for students in the Life Skills program. The Kokomo Public Schools Education Foundation helped Maple Crest officials accomplish that goal.

Maple Crest STEM Middle School Life Skills teacher Melinda Van Tilburg recently was awarded a $469.56 mini-grant from the Education Foundation for her project, “The Way the World Goes Around”, which will help her teach her students about life cycles through hands-on projects.

The grant will allow Ms. Van Tilburg to purchase a windowsill greenhouse, books, and life cycle models, as well as live caterpillars, live tadpoles, and live lady-bug larvae for use in her classroom.

“Every spring my students study the life cycles of animals and plants as part of a STEM unit,” Ms. Van Tilburg wrote in her grant. “I would like to expand the number of animals and flowers we study and provide more hands-on activities to help my students demonstrate understanding. I expect the students to care for, and observe, the live animals and plants, while documenting growth. We will learn about the process those animals and plants go through to become an adult.”

During the process students will observe the animals and plants and document growth in a journal. Students will compare different animals and flowers, while charting observations and creating graphs to use when comparing. The class will read books and short stories about life cycles, and complete worksheets and crafts to support learning.

Principal Hughes thanked Foundation officials for making this important project possible.

“We are working to integrate the STEM curriculum to a higher degree in our Life Skills classes,” Principal Hughes explained. “These funds will provide the necessary start-up costs to help our students investigate life cycles throughout the school year. We already have hatched eggs with the students, and this grant will help us build on those experiences.”

Maple Crest officials also have been working to expand STEM opportunities both outside of the school day and outside the school building.

Thanks to another Education Foundation grant, Maple Crest science teacher Jo-Ann Stephens is able to help grow the school’s outdoor STEM lab.

Mrs. Stephens received a $397.81 mini-grant from the Education Foundation to further develop Maple Crest’s outdoor STEM lab with seed-starting tables and accessible garden beds.

The grant funds will help Mrs. Stephens purchase the necessary materials, including plywood, framing lumber, treated lumber, construction screws, metal sheets, roof screws, electric screwdriver, seeds, and seed starter potting soil. The science educator’s 8th-grade students will use the materials to build the seed shelves and raised garden beds. 

“Most of my students now have some experience building, so this is the next step in construction complexity,” Mrs. Stephens wrote in her proposal. “The project will allow them to use new construction materials.”

Once completed, Maple Crest students will use the space to learn how to start seeds, transplant seedlings, and grow various plants. 

This project will meet multiple State Standards, including: comparing and contrasting the transmission of genetic information in sexual and asexual reproduction; explaining how factors affecting natural selection increase or decrease the ability of a species to survive and reproduce; identifying the criteria and constraints of a design to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions; and several more.

Eighth graders will build the raised garden beds at wheelchair accessible height to allow additional Life Skills students to participate in science lessons.

Principal Hughes noted: “Mrs. Stephens is working to build a long-term solution to accessibility for our students while creating an inclusive extension to our outdoor learning lab. While Maple Crest science students will learn a great deal from this project, it also will benefit our Life Skills students by allowing them the opportunity to participate in collaborative learning with their peers.”

As the Maple Crest STEM program evolved and grew, the school added an after-school robotics club. The Maple Crest STEM Kats launched during the 2018-2019 school year, and in its inaugural season, earned State Finalist honors at the FIRST Technology Challenge State Finals. Team members competed against other middle school teams, as well as high school teams, and finished 14th at State.

Principal Hughes noted: “The success of our Maple Crest robotics team in its first year of competition is a testament to the power of STEM education, as well as a total buy-in from staff and students. The decision to transition to the FIRST Technology Challenge League in 2018-2019 required an incredible amount of time and effort from the robotics team members and teacher/sponsor, Mr. Sid Culp. The students embraced the challenge, which included late nights and early mornings, as well as countless failures that led to character growth, increased confidence, and positive competition results.”

A new construction project at Maple Crest will provide a dedicated space for the robotics lab, so robotics team members can continue to grow the program. This project also will create a Maker Space at Maple Crest, which will house 3D printers, vinyl cutters, a CNC machine, and more. The Maker Space will allow students to develop and manufacture prototypes for STEM projects.

According to Principal Hughes, the staff at Maple Crest continuously learns more about improving STEM instruction within the building. This includes Principal Hughes, who was awarded a Walter J. Moss Teacher Enhancement Scholarship from the Kokomo Public Schools Education Foundation to help him pursue his PhD in Educational Leadership from Indiana State University. Principal Hughes has begun work on his doctoral dissertation on STEM education and school turnaround. 

“I have a great deal of passion for the Maple Crest school community,” Principal Hughes explained. “I have chosen to work on a dissertation that will continue to build my knowledge and understanding of the best methods of instruction and specific curriculum changes necessary to improve our school outcomes, while also helping our students develop the skills needed for 21st Century jobs. As we continue to modify our STEM offerings at Maple Crest, my doctoral research will help guide our STEM programming and will allow us to prioritize the areas that correlate the most with improving student success.”

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