MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — On a recent morning at Mayfield Middle School eighth-graders in lab coats examined a taped outlined on the floor of a large room.
In the vicinity of the space where a “body” fell dead, yellow police tape cordoned off the area. The students went about their work, examining and gathering evidence from the “crime scene” as one might see on an episode of TV’s CSI.
Meanwhile, in another classroom, eighth-graders engineered, designed and built a mechanical assembly line, this after constructing items such as a miniature moving bridge, and a properly sequenced traffic light.
Along the way, students in both classes were given a series of challenges, handed the tools and taught the know-how needed to deal with those challenges, then worked to solve them.
Such things described above are a far cry from typical science classes many Americans have experienced, in which a teacher lectures and several students within the class, head in hand, try to remain awake.
One-hundred-and-sixty Mayfield Middle School eighth-grade students, beginning with the current school year nine weeks ago, were welcomed into the educational world of STEM2M. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Mayfield City Schools added the final “M,” which stands for Medical.
STEM is a nationally recognized educational program that emphasizes the use of technology and replaces the standard teacher-driven classroom with one powered by problem-solving, exploration and discovery. It requires the students to actively engage a situation in finding a solution.
The hands-on, problem-solving classes described at Mayfield Middle School emphasize teamwork. Projects are done in small teams and produce skills that today’s and tomorrow’s employers seek. They also make learning fun.
“They eat it up,” science teacher Vicki McGarry said of students in her Automation and Robotics class. “They’re intense when they’re working on their projects. They’re focused.
“They don’t want to leave class when it’s over. I have to tell them they have to leave because I have another class.”
For McGarry, who has taught for 20 years, having such response from students has made her job a pleasure.
“It’s ridiculous how much I love my job,” she said of her first year teaching STEM2M.
For Dave Lammert, who teaches the “Medical Detectives” portion of Mayfield Middle School’s STEM2M, the feeling is similar.
“I’ve never seen kids so enthusiastic about a subject,” Lammert said. “Instead of doing things by rote, it’s about interacting and investigating things, which I love. They come in and ask, ‘What are we doing today?'”
Assistant Superintendent Joelle Magyar said STEM2M classes taken this year by eighth graders serve as an introduction to the STEM method. The school district planned the program so that eighth graders can continue on with STEM as ninth graders, and for the remainder of their school careers at Mayfield High School. The program will grow to eventually include all high school grade levels.
Once in high school, students can choose a path into biomedical research or engineering and take classes pertaining to their chosen field for the entire school year.
Next year, STEM will be introduced to seventh graders so that they can begin in the eighth grade preparing for an in-demand career path.
“We opened STEM2M to all of our eighth graders this year,” Magyar said. “We anticipated about 100 kids signing up. We got 160 who signed up.”
Mayfield Middle School Principal Paul Destino, in his ninth year at the helm, said 160 students is equivalent to 56 percent of the class.
“STEM is a philosophy to have kids engaged in learning,” Magyar said. “We did it in kind of a unique way by opening it up to all of our eighth graders.”
In Akron, for example, Magyar said one school is dedicated for STEM students. The few school districts that have STEM may further differentiate who can enter the program.
The uniqueness is furthered because Mayfield Schools added the medical aspect to accommodate the district’s relationship with Hillcrest Hospital and Cleveland Clinic.
Superintendent Dr. Keith Kelly said he has heard enthusiastic response about the program from parents as well as local businesses that are part of the Mayfield Alliance of businesses, Progressive Insurance, and the Cleveland Clinic.
“In Mayfield, we have some great companies,” Kelly said. “(STEM2M) gets students interested and gets them thinking in a way where they can go where there are jobs, and that’s the point.
“These companies need people with certain skills that are needed in the future and who know how solve problems and challenges, and they see us as a potential employee pipeline.”
Speaking of STEM2M, Kelly repeated the phrase, “It’s a way, not a place,” meaning STEM2M is about teaching students to think and problem solve in a modern world, and does not refer to a building or location where the program takes place.
McGarry, for example, said that most of her students, upon the start of the school year, had no idea how simple mechanisms work and could not identify a bevel gear, simple gear or U-joint. Now, having been made to examine how these mechanisms work, and design and build their own, students have become more aware of inner workings.
“They say things like, ‘My ice cream scoop operates with a rack and pinion,'” she said.
After actually making their own moving objects, she said, “They’re so proud of themselves. They have a feeling of accomplishment. We take pictures and they tell their parents about what they did.”
In Lammert’s class, he said, students must gather evidence, compare it to DNA samples of “suspects,” then make a case as to why criminal charges should be pressed against one of the suspects. The nine-week course culminates in a trial in which the student teams must present their evidence in a court in which Lammert serves as judge.
“They’re having fun. The kids make reference that it’s just like CSI,” he said.
In addition, construction is expected to begin in December to renovate the former Mayfield library building, next to the high school at 6110 Wilson Mills Road, into the Mayfield Innovation Center,
Set to open next school year, the Mayfield Innovation Center will be home to STEM2M computer assisted design and drafting (CAD), and medical technology classes. Magyar said teachers and students can work on projects there. Also, the building can be eventually used so that students can give presentations to professionals in their chosen fields.