A Good #STEM Day


STEM, you’ve heard the acronym before, right? Well, in case you've been hibernating, STEM refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; schools have promoted it for years. And every year SAS partners with a local middle school, sending out volunteers who inspire students to consider STEM careers. This year many of my fellow Curriculum Pathways team members volunteered!

Our STEM Career Day lessons had students apply knowledge from STEM subjects to work through a real-world problem. Many of the lessons included a short video showing how SAS solutions are used in key industries and how students can collaborate to solve a related problem. Each class ended with a discussion that linked STEM careers to the topic.

Wednesday, I walked into West Cary Middle School prepared to be a floater. Basically, that means my job was to be available: to assist with questions, to replenish materials, and to replace a volunteer, if necessary. As I stood in the hallway awaiting the bell, I reminisced about my 13 years of teaching. Ah, the sound of the kids hustling through the halls! (Well not all of them hustle.) The sight of creative projects on the walls, the lockers, the tiled floors, the backpacks! All these brought back fond memories of teaching. Then the bell rang: it was time to work.

My first stop was room 511, where SAS volunteers Tom and Frank were teaching a Stat Wars lesson. Named after a video series created by two SAS employees, this lesson discusses statistics and probability. Using spinners, students find the probability of earning the big prize. Tom and Frank discussed their positions at SAS and the way STEM relates to what they do. Next, they asked students to name some uses of statistics. As a student yelled out, “Sports,” it was time for me to move on. I needed to borrow a couple of spinners from this classroom and deliver them to another. Plus I had to be available to other classrooms.

Peeking at a schedule, I saw that my colleague Ada was teaching the criminal justice database lesson in room 528. That lesson focuses on the work SAS did with the North Carolina state controller’s office, which was having problems accessing criminal information due to multiple database locations. SAS integrated the databases to create the Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services (CJLEADS). Armed with their activity booklets, the students looked attentive when Ada asked, “Who wants to be our Chief Investigator and read the first two paragraphs?” It was time for me to slip out and check on another classroom.

Up next, room 507, where Molly and Emily were teaching the WildTrack lesson. Now it was time to track tigers! I was just in time to see students try to match an animal to its footprint and explain the logic behind their guesses. This lesson is based on research that uses statistical software created by SAS to track animal populations. As the students began to investigate how many tigers made six footprints, I slipped out the door and headed for the computer science lesson.

Just down the hall in room 512, I found Lucy and Isaiah working with students on an unplugged computer science lesson. My timing was perfect! The students were already working collaboratively, and one group was ready to test their code. On the floor were two large colored circles and two sticky notes. Students had created a program using coding blocks and QR codes to guide Sphero, a small app-enabled ball, through an obstacle course while changing colors at specific times. From the starting position Sphero took off! It headed straight for the green circle and turned green! Then it headed for the red circle and turned red. Success! The students’ program worked beautifully. “Now”, Isaiah said to the team, “I want you to reprogram Sphero to move through the course and then reverse the route.” The students nodded and went back to work on their code.

I visited several other new classrooms and popped back in on a few I’d already visited as students wrapped up their lessons. I saw excitement in the volunteer’s eyes and engagement in the eyes of many students. I could go on, but I think I’ll stop here and just say this: it was a good day!

Check out our homepage to learn more about Curriculum Pathways and other STEM activities!


About Author

Staci Lyon

Staci Lyon is a mathematics curriculum specialist with Curriculum Pathways. She taught high school mathematics for 12 years in Wake County and Granville County. She also taught with North Carolina Virtual Public School. She received both a M.Ed. degree in Instructional Technology and a B. S. degree in Mathematics Education from North Carolina State University. Working alongside a team, she enjoys developing the award winning online math resources for Curriculum Pathways that allow teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends.

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