Lino Lakes Elementary embraces tech, math and science

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2011 - 5:50 PM

Along with the STEM title, students will see more hands-on learning this school year, the principal says.

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Sarah Anderson, a kindergarten teacher, hung a banner in her classroom. Lino Lakes Elementary School has started a Science Technology Engineer and Math STEM program this school year. Teachers were getting ready on Wednesday morning August 31, 2011 in Lino Lakes, Minn..

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Ron Burris, the principal of Lino Lakes Elementary School, is all too familiar with the rapid decline in engagement children experience between kindergarten and the sixth grade.

By the time middle school rolls along, Burris said, many children see school as a chore.

"I want to switch our education system so that kids continue to love learning for the sake of learning," Burris said.

That idea sparked a conversation at the school three years ago among Burris' staff on how to change the curriculum to be more hands-on, interactive and ultimately, fun.

When the school doors open Tuesday for the start of the new year, it will be the ninth Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) school in the state and the first serving students in Washington County.

The effort is geared to making students more marketable, excite them more about school and recruit more students into the district.

Becoming a STEM school involves changing a school's curriculum and training teachers to incorporate STEM projects into almost every subject.

Many schools across the state and nation have added a STEM magnet or focus to their school based on research that says many jobs in the 21st century will be in more technical fields.

"It's been a fascinating whirlwind of change," Burris said.

With the approval of the Forest Lake School Board in May, the school changed its name to Lino Lakes STEM Elementary School.

It received $12,000 from the district as startup costs to pay for signs and substitute teachers to fill in for teachers when they are away for STEM conferences.

The school also has worked with companies, such as the Minnesota STEM Network, which have guided teachers in rewriting the school's curriculum and cultivating projects for students and teachers alike.

A group of teachers and Burris traveled to other suburban and urban districts in the state that have made a similar transition in recent years. This summer, the staff along with parents and a group of Boy Scouts gave the school a makeover, painting walls, trashing old furniture and setting up a STEM project room.

Large STEM signs and art projects pepper the halls with challenges to students to add to the school's new STEM decor.

Burris envisions students making chairs out of cardboard or building structures with sticks and marshmallows and even sawing in half the school's piano to see how it works.

"We want to better prepare children for their world," Burris said. "This program will allow them to do artistic, creative work in teams, problem-solving and higher-order thinking that's going to land them jobs in the future."

As much preparation as the school has gone through this summer, Burris said the key ingredient is till to come.

"Right now it's just a building," Burris said. "When the kids come and start learning, then it becomes a school."

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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