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Weatherstone Elementary School in Cary faced some big changes when it opened its doors for the 2012-13 school year.
The school gained STEM status last spring, which means Weatherstone now focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. The new Common Core curriculum debuted, as it did in other Wake schools. And enrollment at Weatherstone grew from 560 last year to 720 this year, an increase that required about a dozen additional staff members.
As the school’s new principal, Tim Chadwick was at the forefront of it all.
“There were a lot of growing pains, but it was also very exciting,” said Chadwick, a former assistant principal. “With so many things changing, it allowed us to refine our goals and priorities.”
Here, Chadwick talks about what’s happening at his school.
Q: As you went into this school year, how did you approach STEM?
We are still designing long-term goals. But we are fortunate that we have staff who will research and experiment with new technologies. … Then we will keep the things in place that are efficient.
We have worked hand-in-hand with the PTA, and we have brought in outside guests who give us glimpses of the available technologies. Q: Has it been helpful to have support from parents for the STEM model?
Yes, it is wonderful to have so much support that is specific to STEM. Most of our speakers have been volunteers or business-oriented. We haven’t spent a lot of money, and we’ve had a wide variety of speakers.
Q: What are some examples of STEM opportunities you’ve had this year?
N.C. State’s Engineering Place has a long-term relationship with (Wake County schools). We have had every different engineering program come out this year that you can imagine: chemists, physicists, medical-based engineers, electrical engineers.
I was talking to our area superintendent, saying that having college-age students on our campus, even just allowing our students to see what a college student is like, is so exciting for our students.
We have also had speakers from Science Safari in Cary, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Fossil Club and Geomagic, a company in RTP.
Q: Word on the street is that Geomagic scanned your head and put it on top of a candy dispenser. What was the deal with that?
Geomagic went a step further than even we imagined it could. My assistant principal’s husband works there, and they do 3-D software design that is used with 3-D printers.
The speakers brought their technology, showed students what they are currently doing with the technology and asked students to work on a project: If they could print out anything in 3-D, what would it be? Our technology club will probably take a field trip to Geomagic this year.
We want to expose students to technology at this age. Then, when they get to middle and high school, they will know the questions to ask.
Q: Have there been any fun surprises with STEM and the students?
The feedback from the students and parents is that they now get excited about things they might not have gotten excited about before.
Our STEM coordinator, Jennifer Zoller, has been working with students on doing the writing process backwards. In the past, students would brainstorm, then do a rough draft, then revise.
Now, by using applications like Puppet Pals and iMovie, students can practice creating the story visually first.
We have found that the students, especially students who are not naturally interested in writing, find it easier to write the story using the iPad. Their stories have become more creative and detailed.
Q: How many iPads do you have at Weatherstone?
About 240 right now.
Q: What are your goals for the rest of the school year?
We will host a STEM expo on Saturday, March 23, at 10 a.m. We will bring back outside speakers from earlier in the year and showcase our students’ projects in technology and the arts.
One thing we’ll do is to put QR codes at the bottom of students’ artwork so that people can scan it with their iPhones and see a video of the student talking about it.
Also, we use Twitter here at Weatherstone, and our music teacher and chorus do flash mobs. … Our ESL teacher will use Skype to talk with students in other countries.
We are working to pin down what STEM looks like for us. What are our expectations for students? What have we learned this year? What gives us the biggest bang for our buck, which things made the biggest impact?