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Martin Technology Academy celebrates STEM certification as badge of honor
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Principal Ley Hathcock talks Thursday about the process of getting science, technology, engineering and math certification at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science in Flowery Branch. The school prepared for about five years before receiving the STEM certification last week. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Math and science aren’t often learned from worksheets and PowerPoint slides at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science.

Instead, they incorporate STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — into every class and lesson.

When principal Ley Hathcock walks around the school, he’s prepared with one big question for the students: “Tell me where the math (and science) is.”

After a 4- to 5-year rigorous process, the elementary school in Flowery Branch was STEM certified after a visit from the Georgia Department of Education.

“It’s more than checks on a checklist,” Hathcock said of the process. “It would be easy to tell if we were just checking off boxes.”

The process involved a 28-page application requiring proof of the school’s overall STEM culture, ongoing professional learning in STEM for teachers and business and community partnerships with the school.

Hathcock, a man with 25 years in the engineering field and who played a vital role in starting the STEM program at North Hall High School, helped Martin become the first elementary school in Hall County and the 23rd in the state to be STEM certified.

“It’s like a badge of honor. It’s like winning a trophy,” Hathcock said. “It’s who we are.”

State School Superintendent Richard Woods will be presenting a banner to the school, and signage will be added to the building. Martin also will be listed on the website.

“I’d rather see an engaged student, passionate about math and science, than a trophy or plaque on the wall any day,” Hathcock said.

On any given day, around 740 students are learning about basic concepts in the fields of coding, robotics and engineering in kindergarten.

This level of technological know-how for the students means they can speak with an incredible level of dialogue, Hathcock said. He said one of the kindergarten students talked with someone from the Department of Education about a cylinder using terms like volume and mass.

“Every kid isn’t going to love (math and science),” Hathcock said. “But we hope they have an appreciation for it when they leave.”

For example, students have been working to solve a problem with erosion in the school’s car rider lane.

Instead of hiring experts, the school let the students come up with ways to fix the issue. They brought in soil scientists and nursery professionals to offer guidance to the kids, but other than that, the teaching happened through tracking soil samples, using microscopes and determining variables.

They took measurements of plant growth in other areas and simulated what different types of plants could do for the problem in a small plastic swimming pool.

Sometimes projects like these could take much longer than a normal school could allow, but Hathcock said he is more interested in letting the students find things out on their own.

That’s just one example.

Fifth-grader Derek Torres is learning these concepts.

“We’re designing a game,” the 10-year-old said. “We’re learning how to code, so when we grow up, if we like it, we can do it.”

Madalyn Caruso has also been a part of the STEM program.

“It’s challenging,” she said. “But I like it.”

Caruso was creating a 3-D model on her computer for the school’s upcoming tech fair.

At the school, every single child gets exposure to STEM practices, which aren’t focused on state tests.

Deniya Randolph was learning about how to create circuits and design a video game in a class with Torres.

“We created a circuit (the other day),” Randolph said.

In class, they rubbed a balloon against yarn and picked up pencil shavings.

“It’s not teaching for the test. It’s testing for the future,” Hathcock said.

He said they are aiming to teach students the skills they will need in an ever-changing technological world, so hopefully they can use the techniques they’ve learned for future careers.

Some students specifically applied to go to the school for the STEM-focused curriculum.

“If we have room, we take them,” Hathcock said.

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