Marlborough's STEM Initiatives Expand into the Arts

The new heads of STEM education at Marlborough School are making moves to include art and coding lessons into the program’s curriculum.

From the Beverly Press

The new heads of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education at Marlborough School are making moves to include art and coding lessons into the program’s curriculum. Andrew Witman, science instructor, and Darren Kessner, computer science and mathematics instructor, were recently named co-heads of STEM, and they are determined to broaden the current curriculum and to encourage the female students to pursue their interests in STEM-related fields.

Traditionally, the STEM program at Marlborough has spanned the math and science department and was administered by the departments chairs. Witman and Kessner decided to spin-off the overarching STEM curriculum to make it a unique program. STEM clubs and partnering groups within the school include the honors research program, robotics team, bridge building club, rocketry club, 3D interest group and more.

As a private, all-girls school, Kessner wants to ensure Marlborough students have exposure to coding because he believes it will be instrumental to collegiate and professional success. Kessner, who has a background in software development, recently taught coding workshops to math teachers, including instruction on Python software. Coding, which will help the students learn how to create and operate computer software, apps and websites, is now taught in every math course and will expand to include computer science courses.

“The Python software is very good for beginners, and the students have picked it up very quickly and naturally,” Kessner said. “Every job will involve working with an interface of a computer at some point, especially those related to STEM. All fields in computer technology may be very different, but the one common thing is you use programming language to get work done in each,” Kessner said.

The push to include an art component in STEM has recently been championed by STEAM – a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics curriculum movement – which encourages students to explore creative opportunities in math or science fields.

While Marlborough has chosen to opt out of STEAM because it is not yet recognized by the National Science Foundation, they will instead pursue creative projects through “STEM + Art.” The idea is to establish a gallery that will provide students with a forum to showcase the artistic and creative projects from STEM courses and clubs.

“Using art to create projects and using code to create projects is very similar – it’s all about learning how to use a set of tools to create something. Before we had computers at our disposal, we used paint to create art, for example, and now we have computers and technology to create those things on a larger scale,” Kessner said.

Possible projects to be showcased at STEM + Art include animation and games created by students in coding clubs and classes, robots from the robotics’ team, projects from the 3D printing interest group and more.

“With new technology like a 3D printer, the girls are able to explore different methods of creating things through computer and design software that were not possible before,” Witman said. “In addition to showcasing artworks, the 3D printer has allowed students to create parts for robots for competitions.”

The STEM instructors said nearly one-third of Marlborough’s 500 students are involved in robotics, coding or 3D printing clubs. However, all students are involved in STEM-related coursework in their math and science classes.

Witman, who has taught at Marlborough since 2010, said he has seen an increase in students interested in STEM coursework and extra-curricular activities.

“We started the robotics club six years ago, and I have noticed a lot more students are excited about math, science, robotics and coding. There are more girls participating in the extra-curricular clubs and activities, and more girls are interested in going into STEM-related fields,” Witman said.

According to Kessner, software companies have warned that a shortfall of employees will affect all technological fields in the near future. With more women receiving training in technology-related areas, he believes the shortage may be rectified by women entering the workforce in fields they have not been involved in historically.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, women fill close to half of all jobs in the country, but they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.

“The number of computer science women graduates has dropped in the past 30 years, whereas many other tech fields for women have gone up. We want to get more women in computer science, and many students and parents have come to us to ask for information and lessons on coding,” Kessner said.

In addition, the study showed that women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs – which is higher than the difference between men with STEM jobs compared to men in non-STEM jobs. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.

“We see the shortage of women in STEM-related fields as a huge opportunity to get our students excited about it – ultimately it is important for them to participate in these fields because they have a huge amount to offer any [company] in those areas,” Witman said.

Marlborough students will showcase their projects at the fall STEM + Art program on Nov. 19.

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