STEM program focuses on math, science
By JOSH O’GORMAN
STAFF WRITER | January 21,2013
Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca was visiting a Rutland High School classroom where students were taking a poll, asking them which subject offered the most difficult exam last semester. More than 80 percent of the students answered math or science, compared to English or social studies.
“Not a real surprise there,” Vilaseca said following the visit. “I think that’s pretty typical around the country.”
The Stafford Technical Center is meeting this challenge with the formation of its STEM Academy. The academy, which focuses on the STEM subjects of science, technology engineering and math, is still in its infancy and expected to roll out for the 2014-15 school year. But academy director and Rutland High School math teacher Fieh Chan offered a glimpse of the future: a 3-D printer.
The Stratasys-SE takes a computer rendering of a three-dimensional model and then “prints” the model, rendering it with hair-thin extruded plastic. The American-made device retails for $13,900 and was paid for through an equipment grant from the Department of Education. Chan envisions projects where students pitch their inventions to prospective investors.
“For them to be able to plan something and pitch it to adults they don’t know, and fail and have to go back to the design level, offers some real-world experience,” Chan said. “I think one of the most valuable things is when they fail. Kids don’t often know what it’s like to be rejected. We always tell them, ‘Good job!’”
Chan displayed a recent project by 14-year-old Jacob Clark-Trapana of Rutland, who designed a dam that is intended to prevent downtown flooding.
“I was making it so the water was flowing underneath it and the road goes over the top,” Jacob said of his design, which included a reference point for where graffiti would be.
After talking with three different engineers, Jacob hand-drew a few designs, rendered them by computer modeling using Google SketchUp Friday and held a 3-D model in his hand.
“Used to be, you’d have to send out the design and wait two months,” Chan said. “Now we have it immediately, and we can paint it, chrome it or send it out to a metal fabricator.”
This spring, students will employ the printer — and by extension math and science — when they design their own maple-sugaring taps.
“We’re going to give the students some basic specifications and then let them brainstorm what would make a tap flow better,” said Rutland High School science teacher Mike Stannard. Students will get a chance to try out their taps and measure how well they work, while at the same time employing calculus to find the volume of an irregularly shaped object to calculate unit cost.
“The ultimate goal of the STEM program is to work from the bottom up,” said Stafford Technical Center Director Lyle Jepson. “We want to embed math and science in all fields.”josh.ogorman