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Phoenix-area school using real world problems to educate students

(Gateway Polytechnic Academy Photo)
LISTEN: Phoenix-area school using real world problems to educate students

PHOENIX — The days of sitting at a desk and taking notes all day are over for students at one Phoenix-area school.

The STEAM curriculum at Gateway Polytechnic Academy, near Ray and Signal Butte roads in Mesa, is designed so kids can truly understand the subjects they’re learning and, more importantly, retain it.

“STEAM is science, technology, art, and mathematics,” Sarah-Beth Belvado, STEAM coordinator at the school, said.

“You can read from a book,” Belvado continued. “But you’re not going to make the connection. You’re not going to remember it.”

In the classrooms, teachers tie in real world problems so kids can learn by tackling concrete issues. Each quarter, the school decides a theme that every class will focus on. For example, one quarter was all about astronomy, while another was about agriculture.

Each grade is assigned a certain aspect of the theme.

“Our preschoolers learned the parts of the plant,” Belvado said. “Our kindergarteners learned all about pollinators. First grade did decomposers.”

Other grades looked at everything from technology in agriculture to hydroponics. The topics were woven into all subjects, including reading, writing and math.

Jill DeVorkin, a kindergarten teacher at the school, uses a “four C’s” method — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity — to encourage her students to be curious and ask questions. Building structures is a big part of their studies.

“We have their centers where they’re building ABCs,” DeVorkin said, pointing out the various tables.

Kindergarteners were gathered around them — some stamping letters into sand, others are using brightly colored plastic pieces to form their ABC’s and some building structures with blocks using picture-based instructions.

“It’s nice. They can follow the blueprint or they can do their own,” DeVorkin said.

That emphasis on construction and thinking through problems creatively flows through all the grades.

Julie MacDonald, a sixth and seventh grade science teacher, said her classes are learning about the brain. She said she likes to get the kids up and moving and physically interacting.

“I give them questions and say, ‘Hey, we’re learning about the brain. My friend says this. What do you think about that?’ And I always have them justify their answers.”

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