Teaching Students to Solve Problems

By Mellon, Ericka | District Administration, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Teaching Students to Solve Problems


Mellon, Ericka, District Administration


KATHLEEN REGAN CAME TO Glen Rock Public Schools four years ago thinking she would work only six months as the interim director of curriculum and instruction. Instead, she has stayed and succeeded--helping place the affluent, 2,500-student New Jersey district 20 miles northwest of Manhattan in the national spotlight for its science, technology, engineering and math program that extends from kindergarten to college-level work in high school.

Regan, charged with taking the high-performing district to the next level, oversaw a rewriting of the science curriculum to include a focus on engineering--even with 6-year-olds--and integrate math and technology in the lessons. "We were developing STEM before STEM was the buzzword," says Regan, who also is an adjunct professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

The academic overhaul, part of a routine curriculum review the district does every five years, coincided with the building of an $11 million, top-of-the-line math and science wing at Glen Rock Middle and High School. The two-story, 35,000-square-foot addition, funded through a construction bond referendum, includes a greenhouse with climate-controlled windows, two chemistry labs with multiple venting stations for more experiment space, three biology classrooms and two physics rooms. Math classes are nearby so teachers can collaborate easily.

Start Early

The STEM program in Glen Rock stands out in part because it starts in elementary school. "If you wait until even middle school, students have already developed a self-image as to whether they're scientists or not, whether they're good in math," Regan says. In kindergarten, the engineering assignments focus on teaching students to be problem solvers. A favorite lesson, centered on "The Three Little Pigs," requires the youngsters to build houses that could withstand the Big Bad Wolf. The kids love it. "They come back after that lab saying, 'I'm an engineer. It really worked. The wolf couldn't blow my house down,'" Regan says.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In middle school, every student takes a pre-engineering course in sixth- and eighth-grades. …

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