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Independence Becomes STEM School Next Year


Independence Elementary School is buzzing with excitement as what was once considered a far-fetched idea for school leaders becomes a reality. Starting next school year, Independence Elementary School will become Big Lake Schools’ first official STEM school.


“We are incredibly excited,” said Independence Elementary School Principal Darren Kern. “We are doing what is right for kids—something innovative and different to engage, retain and prepare our students for the 21st century.”


The school, which serves grades three through five, has taken several steps over the last few years leading up to becoming a STEM school. The first step it took was adding the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Launch program in 2017-2018, which added a 45-minute class to students’ daily schedules.


“The level of engagement in Launch classes is truly amazing,” Kern said. “Students are excited to get to class, they’re interested in what they are learning, and they are grasping concepts more quickly. This confirmed for us that applying STEM principles school wide was the right direction.”


Students attending the school next year will experience STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education embedded within curriculum throughout their entire day. Science, math and technology integrationists will work with teachers to align academic standards and STEM education in “homeroom” classrooms.


Additionally, students will rotate each trimester between Launch, engineering, and innovative design classes. Launch classes empower students to adopt a design-thinking mindset through compelling activities, projects and problems that relate to the world around them. Engineering classes will blend science and math by having students investigate the natural world and create solutions to real world problems. Lastly, innovative design classes will focus on how innovation and the STEM process (ask, imagine, plan, experiment and improve) can impact design and creativity.


One tool teachers will gain access to is a new STEM lab that will house digital microscopes, various construction materials, computers, and one of the school’s two 3D printers.


“Teachers will receive significant professional development over the summer to learn about our new curriculum, K-12 STEM, and how to best apply it in their classrooms,” said David Bernard, director of teaching and learning.


Creative thinking and streamlining current positions has made turning Independence into a STEM school a budget neutral project.


The decision on whether or not to change the school’s name to reflect its new STEM focus is up for discussion, and will likely be voted on at a future school board meeting.