Welcome to the Whitcomb School STEAM Page!
To view the April 26, 2016 Parent Information Session presentation about the 2016-17 program, click here.
To view the April 12, 2016 School Committee presentation about the 2016-17 program, click here.
Whitcomb STEAM: The next chapter in 21st century Middle School Education
Dear Whitcomb School students and families,
For years, the Marlborough middle school STEM program provided an innovative pathway for more than 350 students grades 6-8. Immersed in project-based learning and high-tech engineering content, the students have flourished and demonstrated unparalleled success in the areas of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and academic mastery.
A scheduling steering committee, open to all staff and school leaders, met throughout 2015-16 and, recognizing the success enjoyed by the third of Whitcomb’s students in STEM, determined that the timing is right for a schoolwide expansion of these proven instructional practices. Recognizing that project-based learning is at the heart of the success of STEM, a schedule was been created that allows for appropriate planning time for teacher collaboration and schoolwide access to engineering and computer science classes. STEM also welcomed a new partner and become STEAM as the arts join forces with their other academic partners to broaden students’ view of the world and their approaches to problem solving.
Beginning in the fall of 2016, all 1300-plus Whitcomb students began to receive a project-based STEAM experience. Students are participating in more than 200 hours of instruction in the STEAM areas of fine arts, computer science, and engineering during their four-year trajectory at Whitcomb. These content areas will team up with core curriculum areas to deliver an authentic interdisciplinary project-based opportunity for all. District STEM Director Dan Riley notes, "This is a national model for middle-level STEAM education. Students will have the chance to experience rigor and relevance through the content of every classroom." Additionally, STEAM is as much about a way of thinking and learning as it is any specific content. Employers are telling schools that they need graduates who can think beyond simple answers to what might be possible. Middle school is the perfect developmental stage for adopting and cementing this sort of thinking. It’s in the middle school that habits of mind become habits for life.
Whitcomb’s successful STEM experience means that a third of the staff already had extensive experience with project-based learning and collegial planning. These staff members are bringing their expertise to their colleagues as STEAM is being created schoolwide. District-defined common planning time creates a structure that will allow for team work at every grade level. Whitcomb is a one-to-one Chromebook school, which adds another dimension to the possibilities as differentiation is more easily supported. We want students to explore beyond the narrow world of textbooks that we are leaving behind. Today the world and every bit of information is at a student’s finger tips. This is their world and the one in which we need to teach.
Kudos to the scheduling committee, which looked at all that was possible at Whitcomb with a very wide lense. They focused not on what would be lost but what could be gained. Committee member and math teacher Erin Casey said, “It was exciting to share ideas with colleagues and to create a vision for a positive educational experience for every student. We embraced, ‘No child left behind’ in a real way. Each academic area was represented and we also focused on the kind of people we are hoping our students will become.” Growing out of the committee experience, the art department offered a schoolwide pilot program working with core teachers to bring more depth to existing lessons. Requests for their consultation sky-rocketed. Several teachers inspired by the conversation designed new relationships between special education teachers and general education teachers which resulted in a co-teaching model that brought expert direct instruction to more students while offering more individual support to struggling students with or without education plans.
The 2016-2017 schedule offers nearly one-hour periods, six per day, translating to an increase in instructional time of nearly fourteen hours for each of the core all-year courses. There is an increase for all students in grade 5 in the areas of engineering and computer science. The same is true for all grades in art classes and the average in engineering and computer science for grades 6-8 is also appreciably increased. Countless hours had been invested by a number of people to make this schedule work within the available staffing.
The new schedule was to students in a weeklong project at the end of June, during which students practiced interdisciplinary learning, and in the process, renamed all of the school’s instructional teams … leaving a mark on Whitcomb that will serve students well into the 21st century. The school’s R.O.A.R. committee embraced the opportunity to involve the whole school in a year-ending activity that built on the successful R.O.A.R. initiative and set the stage for an exciting and successful 2016-2017.
2016-17 marks a rebirth at Whitcomb as the faculty turns up the STEAM!
Brian Daniels, Principal
Dan Riley, Director of STEM