9th Grade STEAMINAR Focuses on Coding, Equity

The Ninth Grade STEAMinar is a signature introductory STEAM curriculum experience for 9th graders at Princeton Day School. A required course, the STEAMinar experience was designed to provide a year-long introduction to STEAM areas of study for all ninth grade students. The STEAMinar also serves as a prelude to the extensive, optional curriculum choices and advanced study opportunities available for US students from sophomore through senior year.

One of the key benefits of a STEAMinar is that all 9th graders are introduced to and able to work with the vast resources of the Wellemeyer STEAM Center. Located prominently in the Upper School just off the main lobby, the STEAM Center is a dynamic makerspace equipped with a powerful array of digital fabrication tools, including a laser cutter, 3D printers and other digital technology instruments. This 2000-square-foot facility embodies the School’s commitment to delivering applied and interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics experiences.

"As the foundational STEAM program in the Upper School, STEAMinar is designed to give all 9th graders a baseline of literacy in STEAM disciplines. Embedded within 9th Grade Math and Science courses, the STEAMinar explores interdisciplinary topics such as coding, computational thinking, statistical literacy, and biotechnology," STEAM Coordinator (and MS & US Engineering teacher) Matt Tramontana explained.

This year, with students learning in person and at home, Mr. Tramontana and US Science Department Chair Jason Park reimagined the traditional STEAMinar curriculum to create an equitable learning experience for all students that maintained the core goals of the program. Launched on January 29, 2021, the focus of this year's 9th Grade STEAMinar is on introducing all students to coding in a fun and interactive way.

Central to this year's STEAMinar program delivery is the School's partnership with STEMLingo, an organization whose mission is to encourage equity in STEAM endeavors.

"We have strategically chosen to partner with STEMLingo to celebrate diversity in STEAM education, and most importantly because their product has assisted us in curating STEAM experiences that the pandemic might otherwise have prevented," US science teacher Dr. Charles Alt noted.

At the beginning of the course, every student received a STEMLingo kit containing key introductory hardware elements for learning code, including an arduino board, ultrasonic distance sensors, wires and more. While each kit comes with printed step by step instructions, STEMLingo also provides each student with log-in credentials to a dashboard that provides additional resources, including supplemental videos. 

Mr. Tramontana explained, "The kits explore a similar technology to what we see in backup sensors placed in the bumpers of cars. Our students are learning in stages how to hook up a sensor and program it to pull distance data. They have progressed to learning how to incorporate LED lights into the same process to provide a visual element and next will be an audio element. Ultimately, students will learn the coding techniques for each element so that they can combine all three to provide data, audio and visual cues based on the distance of objects from the sensors," Tramontana explained.

As the course continues into the spring, it is evident that the curriculum is achieving the goal of reinforcing foundational coding skills while engaging both at-home and on-campus students through equitable instruction and class-time opportunities.

"The great thing with using the kits and having remote students on Zoom on the DTEN screen is that remote students can ask me questions or show me their boards on the camera and I can point them to certain areas, just like I would for the students in the classroom," Mr. Tramontana concluded.

Click the link to learn more about STEAM at PDS.

Photos (from top): STEAMinar students working on their STEMLingo kits; full contents of a STEMLingo kit; Mr. Tramontana, Dr. Alt and US Science teacher Dr. Kelley Bethoney observing a STEAMinar class in the Wellemeyer STEAM Center

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