STEAM taking off at High Tech High
Learning is going full STEAM ahead at High Tech High in Quincy.
With the help of newcomer Michael Werner, a teacher from Granite Falls who recently joined the Quincy School District, students at the district’s smaller high school get the opportunity to learn the same educational model as in the big high school.
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, and seeks to teach students how to think critically, how to use technology, engineering, design and creativity to solve real-world problems, while building on their math and science skills, according to Education Week magazine.
At High Tech High, Werner arrived three weeks ago, enticed by the STEAM work being done at Pioneer Elementary School by the 2017 state Teacher of the Year, Camille Jones. Werner, the 2017 regional teacher of the year for the Northwestern Educational Services District that covers Granite Falls, has worked with Jones for the past year.
“We collaborated across the mountain,” he said. “What she (Jones) does in K-3 is extraordinary, and it’s what I did to some degree in 9-12.”
Moving to Quincy was not in the radar even six months ago, Werner said, but through the collaboration with Jones and communication with the top brass at the Quincy School District, Werner discovered what he calls “a good culture and good people.”
He said that when his wife came from Granite Falls to visit his classroom, someone asked who she was, and when Werner answered “my wife,” every student stood up and introduced him or herself to her.
“I still get goosebumps,” Werner said. “That just blew her away, I mean, those are great things.”
Now teaching in Quincy, the collaboration will continue, with the third-grade classes at Pioneer working with HTH students in different projects. Other students are designing a table for their lunchtime.
“All of this adds to their resume,” he said, adding, “All of this has a real-world application.”
STEAM is not a term Werner is crazy about, but he adds that it’s everywhere.
“If you think about how many fields came together in creating something we take for granted like this green marker,” he said, holding one, “there’s plastic engineering, plastic science, someone figured out the shape, someone has to have done the market research of the logo, someone has to have made the mold, there’s shipping and all those things.”
A native of Switzerland who speaks three languages, Werner has a long career in mechanics in both his native and adoptive countries. As an instructor – because he is not a teacher by training – Werner said he places special emphasis in asking the right questions.
“Instead of asking ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ which the kids have all heard before, instead of asking that, it’s, ‘What do you want to be part of, and why? Where do I see myself? What am I already good at? What problems do I want to solve?’ So it’s really opportunities first, and opportunities will lead to a passion somewhere. Then it shifts the question to ‘What do I need to learn to participate in any of these opportunities.”
These questions connect the learning in school with the hopes and dreams students have for their post-school years, Werner said.
“It needs to be connected,” he said. Statistics show that by kindergarten, students are 100 percent engaged in school. By 10th grade that number has dropped to the mid-30s.
“That means that two-thirds of my clients, and I call my students my clients because I’m not a teacher, I come from the working world; that means two-thirds of my clients are not getting what they want, they are not inspired, they are bored.”
Werner said he wants to start thinking about what they are good at.
“A lot of students think, ‘Oh, I dunno, does sleeping count?’” he said. Another way of digging into the students skills is by asking the “billion” question.
“My billion” asks, ‘What can you do to affect the lives of a billion people?’ That’s a big number but you can start small, like ‘How can I improve the lives of 10 people in my community, my neighborhood, my family, and then grow from there.”
By Sebastian Moraga, firstname.lastname@example.org