On the district’s focus on science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM)?
STEAM is a little new. There’s been a bit of controversy regarding adding ‘art’ into STEM, but art goes beyond the visual and movement-based arts. It includes the humanities, writing and social studies. So it’s a little broader than what we might think of when we think of art [conventionally understood]. Sometimes people use art and design as synonyms [with respect to STEAM], but they’re actually separate.
In our art classes, teachers on some grade levels are already incorporating design elements into their instruction. [The basic idea] is for the instructional context to be grounded in real world issues and in real world problems. Students are required to integrate those different disciplines. Our longer term vision is to be more intentional about incorporating science or engineering into art instruction. For instance, there’s some math inherent in music and the visual arts — sometimes it might just mean highlighting this reality for students. But, in terms of having a fully fleshed out STEAM curriculum plan for the district, we’re not quite there yet.
On other exciting initiatives happening in D97 curriculum
Right now, one of the exciting things we’re doing is collaborating with [River Forest District 90] and [Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200] to try to create a clear math articulation plan from the 6th grade to the 12th grade. We know math placement is really important for our students and their success, so we want to make sure every math course, regardless of level, is rigorous. We’re working with information provided by the West Suburban Cook County Math initiative, based out of UIC [University of Illinois at Chicago], to help us with this. In D97, our middle school math teachers are engaged with this work. They want to have more discussions with high school math teachers about where our students are at once they leave us.
On new national science standards
For students to understand what they’re learning and why can be a bit muddied sometimes. We want to make sure teachers are communicating what standards we’re talking about. Illinois has adopted new state science standards, which don’t come online until next school year.
These new set of science standards incorporate engineering practices into all the different topic areas, regardless of grade level. That was very intentional. Our students will get more exposure in that design thinking as we transition to the new standards.
On the benefits of having teachers and administrators who are former engineering professionals
Certainly, people with engineering backgrounds have an understanding of design principals. People who understand design processes, who know how to work in teams and are familiar with group dynamics — we welcome those skills.