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Woodland Elementary recognized for innovation in STEM learning

Woodland Elementary School is leading the way in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning and efforts to enhance students’ access to 21st-century technology has earned Woodland the 2019 STEM Innovation Award from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA).

Each year, the innovation award recognizes a Minnesota school taking creative approaches to providing STEM education. At Woodland, access to this curriculum is the foundation of their technology and STEM programming. Principal Lisa Carlson said she saw a need to make STEM coursework and enrichment opportunities more accessible to all students. Woodland hired a technology and STEM specialist and piloted an extended-day coding club, which sought students who qualified for targeted services or struggled academically.

“Traditionally, these students are less likely to be included in enrichment and regular extended-day programing,” Carlson said. “In the coding club, they are given specialized instruction to develop confidence, persistence, collaboration and critical-thinking skills. They are able to further explore coding skills in a small class environment.”

Along with the coding club, Woodland teachers have embedded more STEM concepts into their daily curriculum. Students are engaging in more hands-on learning activities where real-world problems are identified and discussed. Makerspace activities provide students opportunities to create their own problems and solutions. Tech tools such as Sphero the codable robot, a 3-D printer and computer software let students put their knowledge into action. And they are even exploring STEM careers.

“At Woodland we talk a lot about developing identity in students and making identity shifts,” Carlson said. “Students need to be able to see themselves as writers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers. They do this through experiences that immerse them in the practice of these disciplines.”

Now three years into the program, student achievement is on the rise, partnerships with local organizations provide critical face-to-face opportunities and more students are aspiring to explore STEM as a future career possibility. Carlson said the success of this program is a combined effort of Technology and STEM Specialist David Lostetter and the generous support of parents.

“This award is so exciting because it is an opportunity to celebrate our school and the work that we are doing every day to give our students the best opportunity to learn and succeed,” Lostetter said. “Our school staff is committed to providing our 21st-century learners with the skills and experiences they need to be successful now and into the future.”