A wing of Masuk High School carries a roadway theme, where the main hallway is called Inquiry Alley and the classrooms are named after teachers. This space makes up the new Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy.
On Tuesday morning, Bonnie Mauer walked down Inquiry Alley and turned onto Carter Causeway, where a group of teacher Melissa Carter's sixth graders worked on videos on their laptop computers. One girl uploaded photos on Edmodo.
"It looks like Facebook, but it's a safe environment where they can just communicate with each other and their teachers," Mauer said of Edmodo.
"You can only privately message the teacher with your assignments, so people can't copy them," one girl explained.
Among some of the programs Carter's students are learning are Glogster, Story Jump, Animoto and Photo Story 3. On Tuesday, her students were making a video presentation for parents that would be shown on Back to School Night.
Earlier in the day, Mauer, science and inquiry education coordinator for Monroe Public Schools, opened a box of Senteos, hand-held devices that look like controllers, on a table in her office.
Students use the devices to punch in their answers to a teacher's question and ...
"Right away teachers know what they know and what they don't know," Mauer said with a smile. "Last year a Masuk teacher used it."
STEM is an inquiry based education program, where children explore topics such as how science and math relate and how can we build a better tomorrow? Children in grades 6 to 8 have used math table in Excel using science class data and written a journal on their computers, so far.
Among visitors expected this year are representatives from Leggo and by Donald Rethke, a.k.a. Dr. Flush, a NASA engineer who invented the first space toilet.
"We had a great first week," Mauer said. "A reallly good first week. The kids were excited. We are using techology in every class. It's amazing to see the excitement of the kids. I have children saying it doesn't even feel like school."
She is active in STEM with the academy's director, Leigh Ances.
When the Board of Education decided to close Chalk Hill as a school and move its students to Jockey Hollow Middle School last year, Supt. of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer spearheaded plans to start the new academy at Masuk for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
At least 150 students needed to express interest in order for the STEM Academy to get off the ground, but demand was high and children had to be chosen in a lottery held at Monroe Elementary School. This fall, 225 students are enrolled.
"I don't think we could be more pleased with how the first week went," said Ances.
Ances, Jockey Hollow Principal Jack Ceccolini and Masuk Principal John Battista, who is also acting interim superintendent of schools, led a tour of STEM Academy after a recent Board of Education meeting.
Battista said it is truly a school-within-a-school with its own entrance, bathrooms and an "age-appropriate" section of books in the school media center.
Bonnie Goes to Washington
Mauer went to Washington, D.C., as part of a four-day education policy conference in July.
"Our charge was to meet with legislators in order to discuss the STEM education policies that government should be looking at, and to explain what STEM is," Mauer said.
The federal No Child Left Behind law embraced by former President George W. Bush has expired and Mauer said lawmakers are seeking input from educators before re-authorizing it as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"We were talking about what should and shouldn't be included," Mauer said. "And we talked about having science included as as part of student performance — a core element of the accountability system."
Another aspect the conference covered was the training and development of STEM educators. During his State of the Union Address, President Obama stated a goal of training 100,000 STEM educators.
"STEM is a concept that President Obama identified as a national priority," Mauer said. "We are behind in science and math in comparison with the rest of the world. STEM became well known as an initiative from the White House."
The conference was sponsored by The STEM Education Coalition, the National Science Teachers Association, The American Chemical Society, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics ... "Stakeholders in math, science and technology education," Mauer said.
Speakers included Obama's aids and senators and members of Congress.
"We broke up into groups and had discussions on STEM education," Mauer said. "It was a wonderful way to connect with others in STEM across the country."
Monroe Leads the Way
Other than the Annie Fisher School, a grade K-8 magnate school in Hartford, Monroe's STEM Academy is the only place in Connecticut with a complete educational program is designed around STEM, according to Mauer.
"Our STEM Academy is already being recognized," she said. "We're getting requests for visits from educators around the state. We're front runners in STEM education. I think it's fabulous."
Mauer herself will be a presenter at the National Science Teachers Association's Regional Conference in Hartford in October. But Mauer said the real focus of this movement in on Monroe's students.
"We want them to reach for the sky," she said. "I want children to believe that anything is possible."