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Schools embrace a new way of thinking, teaching

Posted: June 11, 2017 - 12:07am

The power of positive thinking.

That was the gist of the motivational speech delivered at the Chamber of Commerce's women in business luncheon Wednesday. Motivational speaker, Dale Smith Thomas described herself as the "unapologetic optimist," and her personality and rhetoric certainly delivered.

She preached a few familiar and a few not so familiar pieces of advice about positive thinking. It's your decisions, not your circumstances that determine your future.

"If you can look up, you can get up," she said, quoting Les Brown.

All of this positive thinking talk from this six-foot-tall glass of super woman in pink stilletos with a refreshing Southern accent actually got me thinking.

While we regularly report on the accomplishments of local students in the News-Times, we have recently featured on our front page two Columbia County schools seeing success through their science, technology, engineering and math curriculums. It's garnered them some well-deserved attention and for good reason.

The first article appeared in the May 21 edition when Harlem High School traveled to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The student team worked with industry professionals from Textron, Chain Reaction bicycles and others to create a race car that was aerodynamic and functional. At the speedway, their Formula 24 race car came out on top in their class and second overall, putting Harlem High School on the map, over 28 other schools across the nation.

In today's edition, Lakeside Middle School set its own milestone by becoming the first middle school in the county and 13th in the state to become STEM certified.

We had the pleasure of interviewing their principal, Felicia Turner, for the story. As you might expect, she was very passionate about the win and rightly so. It's been a journey they have been dedicated to consistently for the past four years. And while the physical reward is small, Turner said they've won the greatest prize of all: She said they have seen a huge impact on the students in the shift to a STEM curriculum.

Students who didn't care for math and science before are now truly embracing the subjects. And that is priceless.

We picked Turner's brain about some hurdles she faced during the certification process from the past four years.

Her answer wasn't what we expected.

She pointed out the integration of a new way of thinking was their biggest challenge. No longer was learning about following the directions and completing the task with the answers at the end, laid out all nice and neat.

At first, she said it was a hard concept for the students to grasp. But over the years, the new way of thinking has become the new normal at Lakeside Middle.

And the cherry on top? Local business partners in education, like John Deere and others, are devoting their own employees and engineers to working hands-on with the students.

Not surprisingly, the business partners have also had to integrate a new way of thinking, right along with the students.

It seems the time of the standard career fair is over. Businesses no longer need worry about a well rehearsed power point presentation and goodies to bribe the students with for listening.

Local engineers are now working side by side with sixth, seventh and eighth grade students on cafeteria room tables and floors with car and boat designs, sharing real world scenarios from their own work in the industry. They help the students ask the right questions they need to figure out how to solve what seems like a simple problem. "How to design a boat or car so that it travels in a straight line?"

One would be surprised at how much science, technology, engineering and math can really go into creating a working model. And the brilliant part? There isn't just one right answer. It's amazing to see just how much analytical thinking and problem solving can be brought to life when coupled with a young person's creativity.

Club Car actually holds a similar competition, challenging groups of students to work with Club Car engineers to design a more efficient Vanbox golf cart to sell to their customers.

And the list of STEM-focused projects happening in Columbia County goes on.

System-wide, our schools are embracing a new way of thinking and teaching.

I guess you could call it an educational evolution taking shape right here, with Columbia County taking its place as a front runner and trendsetter, with schools like Lakeside Middle and Harlem High. And local businesses are buying into the new way of thinking by investing not only resources, but also their time in our schools.

STEM is the way of future in education and Lakeside Middle is the proverbial "first man on the moon" in navigating the certification process for this area.

The potential impacts are enormous and far-reaching. The overall objective is to get students to employ their new thinking and problem-solving abilities to solve problems that can ultimately benefit our community and the world.

Lakeside Middle has started small with some sixth graders weaving mats for the homeless out of recycled grocery bags. Another group of students has also participated in a river cleanup behind their school.

We find it refreshing the goal of the STEM curriculum is to truly teach children how to think on their own. If faced with a problem that doesn't work out, they're taught to step back, ask why it didn't work and how it can be fixed. Then they redesign and start from scratch.

In our problem-laden world, the lessons students are learning today through the STEM curriculum could come in handy when it's their turn to lead. Maybe there is hope for us afterall.

Now that's positive thinking.

I think Dale Smith Thomas would be proud.

 

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