Chisholm Trail X-STEAM program expands with student interest
Chisholm Trail X-STEAM program expands with student interest
Posted on 01/26/2018
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Sheila Greene works with a student in X-STEAM

Thirteen years ago, Chisholm Trail Middle School science teacher Sheila Greene submitted her first Northwest ISD Education Foundation grant application with fellow teacher Stacy Hamby. After they were awarded the funding, Mrs. Greene was encouraged by the process – and she’s applied for grants every year since then.

The grants have helped expand the school’s STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics – program with new equipment and tools. Since its inception, the foundation – commonly referred to as NEF – has funded more than $1.6 million in innovative teaching grants to Northwest ISD educators. The foundation’s goal is to provide resources to enable teachers and students to work at their potential and reward educators for the creative and exemplary teaching they bring to classrooms.

“The great thing about NEF and what it offers teachers is that it gives you a chance to open your mind to what you would do or what concepts you would teach,” Mrs. Greene said. “If you could have whatever you needed to accomplish something really ambitious, what would you teach?”

Once an application is submitted, recipients are chosen carefully by the selection committee composed of NEF board of directors and community partners who review and score each grant. The review process is anonymous to ensure each grant application is judged on its own merit.

Last year, Mrs. Greene worked with Jill Harris and Jennifer Reynolds, fellow science teachers at Chisholm Trail, to write the grant “Electrifying STEAM.” That grant provided funding for Snap Circuits electronics experimentation sets for X-STEAM, an after-school program to promote student engagement in STEAM subjects. The Snap Circuits sets, composed of snap-together parts, build more than 300 experiments in resistance, voltage, strength, light, batteries, magnetics and alternative energy strategies.

“Students named it X-STEAM,” Mrs. Greene said, “because using advanced technology to overcome challenges in engineering, arts, math and science makes them feel like the superheroes the X-Men.”

Initially developed as an opportunity for advanced studies for students in the gifted and talented program, X-STEAM has since evolved into an equal opportunity educational club, serving the special education department and grade-level students. The program has 50 members and features mentoring support from district teachers and Communities in Schools.

A student works on a rocket in X-STEAM

Mrs. Greene said the goal is to provide a self-organized learning environment where students can choose based on their interests to study concepts like robotics, computer programming, and rocketry through experimentation sets, many of which were also funded by NEF. The addition of the Snap Circuits sets give students an opportunity to study the fundamentals of electric circuitry and electrical engineering.

“Students today use advanced electronics unthinkingly, without awareness of the thousands of experiments and developments that preceded the extraordinary devices in their pockets,” she noted. “The future of electronics requires a future generation of engineers to build upon the magic we already possess.”

Prailey Cohea, an eighth-grade student at Chisholm Trail, has been a member of X-STEAM for three years. Last year, a bridge she designed during the program was shown at the annual Chisholm Trail Middle School Art Show and Makers Faire. At the first November meeting, Cohea and Joaquin Urby, the Communities in Schools mentor at the school, used one of the Snap Circuits sets to build a radio.

“It’s my first time working with this set, but I’ve used a lot of the other ones,” Cohea said. “It’s just fun and really interesting to see what you can create.”

Teachers and mentors provide some guidance to influence the progression of student learning, but as students increase their understanding, they have more opportunities for self-selected experiments. Mrs.

Greene said students choose which areas and activities to do based on their interests.

“They want to learn and understand these concepts as fast as they can to create what they want to,” Mrs. Greene said, “so they hurl themselves at learning as opposed to me dragging them.”

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Northwest Navigator magazine.