SHARING AMERICA'S TECH NEWS FROM THE VALLEY TO THE ALLEY
By Ben Chapman (courtesy nydailynews)
Fourth-graders Gabriela Franco (left) and Briana Luna learn science concepts at Public School 15 in the Bronx.
The gifted kids in the class attacked their math lessons with enthusiasm, taking a quiz of 40 additional questions in one minute before tackling the counting drill.
NEST teacher Jennifer Rosenfeld said stoking the kids’ manic energy by getting them moving during math lessons keeps their interest in the subject high.
“Kids do better in math when they move around,” said Rosenfeld. “It warms up their brains and they perform better on tests. It keeps them excited.”
These children are barely old enough to tie their own shoes, but city elementary school kids are foot soldiers in the high-tech STEM revolution.
STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — is at the center of the Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to diversify the city’s economy following the financial crash of 2008.
It’s also the basis of a nationwide push to transform education, from the primary grades to graduate school, away from the humanities and toward the sciences.
New York City’s public schools are leading the way — and elementary students are where the transformation begins, said the Education Department’s chief academic officer, Josh Thomases.
“The early grades lay the groundwork for the future,” said Thomases. “It’s best to get students comfortable with science and math from a young age.”
At all levels, city schools are beefing up their offerings in math and science.
The city has created 22 new technical education high schools, with seven more coming next year. Officials also plan to transform 20 additional high schools and middle schools into specialized STEM academies.
And at the elementary school level, officials have rolled out hundreds of STEM programs at elementary schools, including dozens where laptops have gone out for free.
Scores of city elementary schools have added math and science training to teachers’ professional development programs. Dozens of schools have added after-school tutoring in the subjects.
The efforts have paid off: City scores on national science and math assessments have risen since 2006, while statewide scores fell, Thomases said.
The push is apparent at NEST, where all kids get weekly computer lessons and fourth-graders use digital notebooks on loan from Sony to take notes in class.
“Children learn by doing,” said NEST Principal Olga Livanis. “They stay engaged. They need something to show for their efforts.”
Most of the kids at NEST, where admission is determined by how kids perform on a competitive exam, have access to computers at home and highly motivated parents who help them stay on top of technology.
But the STEM revolution has made it to less-advantaged schools as well. At Public School 15 in the Bronx, half of students don’t have access to computers or smartphones in their homes.
But the challenges faced by the community have only heightened the determination of Principal Tara Edmonds to prepare her kids in math and science.
PS 15 has intensive classes in both subjects for all students, a computer lab, math coaches and other resources that helped it outperform the city average on math and science tests.
“We keep up the pressure on math and science, and we’re making progress,” said Edmonds, a Bronx native who graduated from Brooklyn Tech. “These kids need to learn math and science to compete in the global economy.”
The passionate math and science teachers at PS 15 help keep kids motivated about the subject, said Dupree, even though the students don’t all come from tech-savvy families.
John Hagan Brown is one such teacher. Brown has taught at PS 15 since it was founded in 1995 and holds a doctorate in cell biology. He conducts research at Yale two nights a week and also moonlights as a professor at Mercy College medical school.
His greatest priority, though, is teaching third- and fourth-grade science at PS 15. “These kids could be left behind otherwise,” said Brown. “We can’t let that happen.”
Brown uses hands-on classroom experiments to teach science whenever possible and is quick to use real-life examples to illustrate scientific concepts.
His high-energy teaching style thrills his young students, who learn science without even realizing they’re doing something that could help with their future.
“I just like learning about science,” said Briana Luna, 10, a fourth-grader from the Bronx, who used a scale to weigh objects and explore the concept of density in class on Thursday. “Dr. Brown makes it fun.”