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STEAM class is hot choice in Eagle Point Middle School
Eagle Point Middle School seventh graders Ryan McFall, (from left) Sarah McVey and Hayden Wahl work on a machine that causes Doug the gopher to rise out of its hole near Sammy the duck’s pond. McFall said the STEAM class teaches teamwork, while McVey said it gave them a chance to explore skills. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The low hum of student engagement filled an Eagle Point Middle School classroom on a recent January day.
Small groups of students discussed engineering problems as they worked on their projects and the teacher moved about the room. Gears clanked, and occasionally a tool would clatter on a table.
“I’m proud of this!” eighth grader Makayla Davis suddenly exclaimed. Her original idea for a gear hadn’t worked, but she had found a new solution. Almost immediately, she was leaning in to help a younger student, asking whether she needed help getting her machine to work.
This STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) class is a direct result of the 2019 Student Success Act. Principal Mason Marshall said parents love the class and students are coming to school because they don’t want to miss it. He said the Eagle Point School District couldn’t have offered the extra elective without the act’s funding.
The act created the Student Investment Account, sending $892 million to Oregon districts for 2021-23. The act’s funding is starting to show up in classrooms, and education leaders like what they are seeing. OREdNews is offering an occasional series, “Investing in Success,” to look at districts’ improvements.
The Student Investment Account is allotted based on enrollment and must be used for reducing class sizes, increasing instructional time, improving student health and safety, or offering a well-rounded education. Eagle Point, near Medford, received $4 million. It has targeted funding for staff positions, including two guidance counselors, five district student services facilitators, three behavioral support staff, 13 instructional assistants, and 11.5 teaching positions, specifying that 2.5 are dedicated to middle school STEAM.
The middle school STEAM classes are one of Eagle Point’s signature investments, part of its strategic goal to “Provide innovative pathways for all students.” Combining disciplines is part of the class’s intriguing academic alchemy that has its students bubbling over with enthusiasm.
Sixth grader Andrew Ball said he got excited about the class when he heard they built things using technology but his excitement cooled when he learned that “STEAM” includes math. The STEAM class is now his favorite, and he wants to do more related learning.
“This makes math more interesting when I know I need it for technical stuff,” Ball said, proudly showing off a nametag he created using the design application Tinkercad and the school’s 3D printer.
Banyan Arguello, on the other hand, said he took the class because the hands-on work was more interesting to him than an art class.
“New builds every week make you want to come to class,” Arguello said.
Eagle Point School Board Chair Matt Stone said the classes are opening students’ eyes to possible careers before they start down a high school path. He said the program has been fantastic and worth the extra effort involved with Student Investment Account applications.
“Having those funds available beyond our general budget, these programs wouldn’t be possible without it,” he said.
Eagle Point Middle School is offering Design and Modeling to all grades, with Automation and Robotics as a follow-up course. The school plans to offer a third course next year on app development. The Student Investment Account paid for class materials such as the 3D printers, robotics kits that cost thousands of dollars, and teacher training.
The classes’ teacher, Nicole Spangler, is in her 10th year teaching. A former elementary school educator, she took online classes to learn how to build each of the projects. Often she incorporates her own challenges with a project into the lessons. Spangler remembers what it was like being one of the few girls in a hands-on technology class, and she makes her class fun and welcoming to all.
The Eagle Point classes have 131 students, almost a third of them girls.
“Anyone can do this,” said seventh grader Paige Daw.
The class tends to do a different project every week. In late January, they had to make a machine that would create an action when it was pulled along the floor. With gears and pulleys and chains, the turning wheels made parts move that the students decorated along a theme of their choosing.
Seventh grader Roman Garcia hooked up a chain that featured Pac-Man chasing some ghosts because Garcia’s dad got him interested in old video games.
“You build what is in your mind and then you fix it,” Garcia said. “It’s good for life.”
The class is creating middle school buzz, with students talking about taking the next course and encouraging younger students to sign up.
Sixth grader Layla Fath transferred from another district and was placed in a class with mostly older students. She was worried the class would hurt her grades.
“I didn’t think I was a mechanical kid,” she said. “But it’s not mechanical; it’s more than that.”
Instead, the class has opened up all sorts of new possibilities for future careers, she said, while also being fun.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Fath said. “It makes me happy.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA