We are always actively seeking out ways to improve the learning environment that actively encourages women to pursue their passion, regardless of whether the subject matter has "non-traditional" gender bias. This is no more so evident than the revolution of our ICT course this year into a progressive STEM course offer for our girls. It's a change that would not have been possible without the Annual Fund and will take a giant leap forward next year thanks to the Technology Campaign.
Across the school, we were one step ahead of the changes being implemented by the BC Ministry of Education. No more so was this the case than with our ICT transition to STEM. The Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) program at LFA has completed its first transitional year away from the old ICT (Information and Communications Technology) curriculum into a new elective opportunity for our girls, which gives students the opportunity to exercise applied skills, critical thinking, inquiry and situated learning. Particularly relevant in a technology course, it has become about “discovery” where once there was lecture. The result is that, rather than an evolution of a course, this past year’s delivery of curriculum has been a revolution.
The students are now actively engaging in inquiry to learn across a spectrum of disciplines. Where once the curriculum was to teach a unit and follow up with a relevant activity, we’ve flipped it on its head. We now give an activity that’s a genuine problem to be solved, ideally a problem that the student is invested in solving. Teaching revolves around the completion of the problem-solving, which requires the student to obtain a number of skills.
In practical terms, the goal for our students is to build. To construct. To create a device that has an application to solve a presented problem. This means integrated engineering skills, design skills (including using Computer Aided Design [CAD] programs), critical thinking skills, an understanding of 3D modeling, and—most of all—problem solving. They’re going to develop a real understanding of a “Design Cycle” that takes each student from “idea” to “designing” to “drawing” to “modeling” to “redesign”.
This year the students tackled a number of compelling problems. One example is keeping soil at an optimal moisture level to grow plants. Using hydrometers, micro-controllers, and a water pump, the girls built and programmed their own automated watering system. Similarly, the girls were given a some wheels and a small electric stepper motor and challenged to design a car. Using CAD software and 3D printers, they designed and refined the working components to mount their wheels on the car and connect the drive motor. The net result was a working battery powered car where they'd programmed all the electronics themselves in C language.
Introducing a first-year STEM program takes resources. Our STEM lab is the perfect example of both our Annual Fund and our Technology Campaign enabling real change in the lives of our students. The Technology Campaign allowed for several major purchases, including two 3D printers that are in constant use. The Annual Fund meanwhile, enabled the tools and bits that are in constant use: things like microcontroller, motors, clay, software, pumps, transformers, circuit boards, switches, sensors, lights, wires, diodes and resisters.
Starting what amounts to a new program from scratch is only possible with at a school like ours through the philanthropic support of our community. But it truly is just the start. Next year, we will see the lab take a huge step forward. Seeing the extraordinary impact that this sort of course has, especially in an all-girls setting, the Cullen family have generously stepped forward to professionalize the STEM lab. Tools, more typical in a university STEM lab than a high school lab, will now be available to our students.
Professional electronic equipment that allows ours students to engage in integrated engineering will include essential tools like oscilloscopes, volt meters, and DC power supplies. Mechanical tools that allow student design to be built, by them, in their lab include laser cutters, CNC (computer numerical control) routers, CNC milling machines, soldering iron stations, as well as well-stocked tool box of the basics (everything from pliers to screwdrivers).
Over the course of 12 months, philanthropy has transformed the elective experience for LFA students. Opportunities that simply didn't exist a year ago are now available for our girls to explore. And, there are indications that the girls are ready to explore: enrollment for this course have doubled for next year.