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Full STEAM ahead: Flowery Branch High adds arts to mix as schools pursue science, technology, math
Flowery Branch senior Hayden Shedd shows a pair of shoes made by students in a honors engineering applications class that met the requirements of being made from recyclable materials and could withstand one mile of use.

Similar local programs

• Gainesville schools: STEAM, directed by Eddie Nemec

• North Hall High School: STEM, coordinated by Candi Clark

• Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science: STEM for the elementary level, led by Ley Hathcock

Imagine reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe and actually hearing the thumping of the heart under the floor, thanks to virtual reality.

Ean Sonnier, director of the new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math program at Flowery Branch High School, asked, “What if our students made simulations” to mesh with Poe’s classic story? The technology may amplify the emotions.

“Imagine the feeling of guilt in that situation,” he said.

Sonnier presented the school’s STEAM concept Monday to the Hall County Board of Education.

Flowery Branch High is still creating its program, Sonnier said Thursday, but it will be the first in Hall to add the “A” for arts in the acronym more often seen as STEM.

He said technology increasingly is being used to heighten learning, citing Jessica Vaughn’s Wednesday biology class. Vaughn had students using virtual reality to look inside a cell.

In addition to virtual reality, augmented reality “is really big nowadays,” he said. It is reality, “but you can see things on top of it.”

The recent Pokemon Go craze is an example, where people use their cellphones to look at imaginary creatures displayed onto the world around them.

STEAM is already used throughout the Gainesville school system, program director Eddie Nemec said. The city’s program is in it third year.

“It’s actually a holistic way to learn,” Nemec said. “We have a STEAM emphasis K-12.”

He said the district seeks to “integrate STEAM into every classroom.”

The district is doing a project now that requires students design cars, produce them with a 3-D printer and race them.

The students learn about science, Nemec said — the habits of science and investigating.

“Any tool that you use in the process is that ‘T’ in STEAM,” he said.

Using engineering principles, students can decide how many wheels the cars should have, between one and four.

“They may make it, and it doesn’t work or it’s not fast enough,” Nemec said.

He added the program teaches problem solving and new skills students haven’t thought about using.

“I’ve had students who’ve used a drill who’ve never used a drill before,” he said.

Nemec said the curriculum gets students “to go beyond what they normally do — push what they’re learning.”

Sonnier emphasized setting criteria for the Flowery Branch program is “about (students’) potential. I don’t want it to be heavily based on test scores.”

In planning the curriculum, he said, teachers involved are asking, “What does the student graduating from our program look like?”

A few examples he gave include having students collect photos from places like Stone Mountain or Savannah and stitch them together to create a virtual reality.

He also said students could simulate time travel via virtual reality, such as visiting Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches or watching Civil War battles via animation.

He said he anticipates having about 50 students per year in the STEAM program, adding about that number each year.

Sonnier said he is going around the school and observing “different teachers who I’ve heard are doing some amazing, innovative things in their classrooms.”

It is a combination “talent search” and talking with teacher to see if they would be interested in the STEAM concept.

Sonnier said he has consulted with North Hall High about its STEM program; the Da Vinci Academy, which heavily incorporates science; and Gainesville High, which also has a STEAM curriculum.

Other local schools are pursuing certifications in STEM or STEAM.

Gainesville Exploration Academy is seeking STEAM certification.

North Hall hopes to get its STEM certification in December. It started its STEM Academy in 2013, which now has 115 students.

Once the program is certified, students will graduate with a STEM seal on their diplomas.

“Students enter the program their freshman year, and they come straight into our program from the (Earhart-Edison) program at North Hall Middle School,” said Candi Clark, the STEM coordinator. “Students who are in our program are on an accelerated track.

“We typically accept around 30 to 35 students per year. We like to keep our program numbers low so we can really get to know our students and connect with them.”

The Martin Technology of Science and Math is working on getting its certification for STEM. Principal Ley Hathcock said the final visit before certification is scheduled from November.

The basic concept of the program, he said, is “we integrate our math and science so that at all grade levels we don’t have separate math and science class. We have a STEM class.”

Martin is the only elementary school in the district actively pursuing the program.

Before going to Martin, Hathcock started the STEM program at North Hall.

“If I can get kids doing math and science in a way that’s interesting to them, I can keep them engaged,” Hathcock said. “And if I can keep them engaged, they’re going to learn.”

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