Since starting to blog over the summer, writing about my school’s STEM Early College High School has seemed like a daunting task. However, I think it’s time to explain a little bit about this exciting program I get to be a part of!

Our STEM program currently consists of 6^{th} and 7^{th} graders at the middle school, and 9^{th} and 10^{th} graders at the high school. We will continue to add two new grades until we are officially grades 6-12. Juniors and Seniors will have the ability to take courses at a local university to earn college credit early. Since I’m the 9^{th} grade STEM math teacher, I’m going to focus on the high school aspects of the program. The biggest difference between our program and the regular high school is that all STEM students must take engineering and they receive a laptop to use during the school year. The students also complete four term-long, interdisciplinary, group projects that count for 20% of the term grade in each of their STEM classes. Along with teaching skills and concepts, we are teaching the students how to collaborate and work with students they might not get along with. On some days, students do not attend math, science, English, or history class, but they stay in an assigned classroom for most of the day to work on their projects.

The biggest difference for the teachers is that we are a team comprised of one math, one science, one English, one history, and two engineering teachers, and we have one 48-minute common planning period. Every. Single. Day! We use this time to plan our projects, meet with parents, meet with the Special Education and ELL teachers, discuss student issues, and plan interventions. I truly believe the success of this program lies in having this common planning time every day and having the opportunity to work so closely with a group of teachers invested in one cohort of students.

The biggest difference in my classroom specifically is how I try to integrate the physics and engineering concepts in my lessons. For example, when teaching slope, I use some of the graphs that the physics teacher uses in his classroom. He uses a distance/time graph to have students calculate velocity. I can use the same graph and ask them to calculate the slope of the line. Then we talk about how they are calculating the same thing and they don’t really have to memorize the formula for velocity. This is surprising to students at first, but they get used to seeing the same data in our classes. And the physics teacher and I strive to use the same terminology so that we don’t confuse our students.

I teach two STEM Honors Algebra 1 classes, two STEM Honors Geometry classes, and one Senior Topics class outside of STEM. All of the STEM students take an honors class even though they might not have been placed in an honors class outside of STEM. Although it’s definitely a challenge and I spend more time planning than I did when the program didn’t exist, I absolutely love being a part of it and I think my students really benefit from this school within a school.

This is just a brief overview, as I could go on forever about the program, so let me know if you have any questions! If your school has tried anything like this too, I would love to hear about it!