Tucker’s STEM-Certified Elementary School Trains Students for Future Success
If you ask a teacher why they chose that particular profession, you could get any number of answers. For some, it’s the opportunity to shape and mold young minds. Others enjoy the challenge of teaching skills that will last students a lifetime. And some are just really passionate about the subject matter that they teach.
Veteran teacher Ricky Board claims all three. Board teaches technology at Midvale Elementary School, the first STEM and IB-certified elementary school in Georgia. A self-proclaimed tech geek, Board began his teaching career a decade ago in Texas before coming to Tucker, where he has taught the past three years. But he was interested in the subject for years before becoming a teacher.
“I’m just fascinated by technology. I always want to know what the future is,” he explains.
Board’s classroom is an innovation hub. On one shelf sits a drone. On another, a row of coding robots. There are a handful of 3D printers along the wall, right next to the Promethean Board. And lined up on each of the tables are Chromebooks that students start using as learning tools as early as pre-K.
This technology can be expensive and is ever-changing, so Board and his school’s leadership look to a variety of sources for funding. DeKalb County School District budgets some. The Midvale PTA has contributed. Various grants and community partners have helped secure the rest. The result is a learning environment where students develop an aptitude for tech gadgets, while developing themselves as critical thinkers.
“We need to teach our children to think, refine, pivot and problem solve,” says Midvale’s STEM/IB Coordinator Ashley Little. Little says that the use of technology combined with Problem Based Learning (PBL) assignments across all curricula are helping Midvale students to thrive in a rigorous academic environment and helping the older students to prepare for the transition to middle school.
While academic preparation is important, Midvale Principal Dr. Tara Dougherty says these tools are critical to developing the students and preparing them to enter the workforce in 10 to 20 years.
“Even if you’re not going into a tech-specific field, the skills they’re learning will help in any field,” she says.
Board agrees, adding, “Technology will be part of any job. All the things we’re doing can be applied to different things. I tell kids their future is going to be very different. The jobs they’re going to do we probably don’t even know about yet.”
As for the technology and all those gadgets Board stores in his classroom, they are doing more than just teaching students; they’re solving problems and saving money within the school. Dougherty tells a story of a science class that didn’t have the right supplies to complete a project.
“We didn’t have enough tweezers for our students to do their owl pellet dissection project,” she recalls. “So, Mr. Board has the 3D printers. Rather than us taking time and spending money to buy more tweezers, he just printed tweezers for everybody.”
Board, an Apple Distinguished Educator, is especially excited about 3D printers and the possibilities associated with that technology. He cites new efforts around the country to create affordable housing by literally printing small homes for just a few thousand dollars. If you’re not familiar with 3D printers, he says, you’re going to be.
“[They’ll] be like microwaves someday,” he predicts. “There will be one in every home and they’ll be affordable. A couple of years ago, they were selling for over $2,000. They’re $300 now.”
Technology is a favorite class for many Midvale students and the man who leads that class is a favorite teacher. Need proof? Each year during Midvale’s Read-a-thon fundraiser, two students who meet a certain monetary goal get to choose a teacher to pie in the face at a schoolwide assembly. Board has gotten a pie each of his three years at the school.
It’s not just that the kids like Board and that he enjoys them (his son is a student at the school), he says he’s inspired by watching their minds work and figure things out for the first time.
“I love the creativity of our kids,” he explains. “They’re not afraid to try. Even if they don’t have solutions, that’s how you innovate. You never know if you don’t try.
“Technology is changing so fast you’ve got to be able to keep up. That’s why it’s important at Midvale that we do the process with design and the factors of STEM and IB. These students are finding real world solutions to real world problems. I tell them, ‘I want you to learn how to learn.’”
After a lot of work, Midvale gained its STEM certification in 2017. For the past two years, the school has aimed to push the program further, becoming a model for elementary schools across the country. The woman in charge says there is one key element that has helped Midvale thrive.
“A school can only be as good as our teachers are,” Dougherty explains. “Giving them autonomy and trusting them, providing what they need is really important.”
It’s a belief that empowers those teachers, trickles down to the students and is creating young leaders for the 21st century.