The OLMC Approach to STEM
“Technology alone is not enough - it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that makes our hearts sing.” ~Steve Jobs
A classical liberal arts education is the ideal context in which to study STEM subjects for two reasons. First, as Google’s in-house philosopher explains, the study of STEM subjects tends to keep one’s head down and focused on particulars, while the study of liberal arts raises one’s eyes to the ideals of humanity. Their intersection, therefore, provides the perfect platform for students to grow in both knowledge and wisdom. Second, many experts predict that more than 50% of the jobs that will exist in the next decade don’t exist now. That means that, especially within STEM professions, students will need to be nimble, innovative, and undaunted by the unpredictable - which is exactly what a classical liberal arts education trains them to be.
MATHEMATICS: AN INCREMENTAL APPROACH
The human brain is as hard-wired to understand Mathematics as the human body is to walk, and students are perfectly capable of developing an aptitude for it if they are taught in a way that makes sense to them. We use the Saxon curriculum to teach Math. Saxon is an incremental approach, meaning that concepts are introduced, mastered, reviewed, and then built upon. We reject the faster pace of many other methods because we’ve found that they allow for only a surface understanding that fades quickly. Saxon, on the other hand, takes its time and dives deeply into each area. Because of this, students frequently begin to see mathematical patterns on their own, and are thus able to make significant cognitive leaps. They develop an almost instinctive understanding of math, which not only results in complete mastery of Algebra before the end of 8th grade, but also facilitates profound capacity for the advanced concepts in Calculus and beyond.
SCIENCE: A SPIRIT OF INQUIRY
As a classical institution, we delight in teaching science. It is a particularly ideal catalyst for cultivating a sense of wonder and a commitment to look hard at the world around us. We train students to develop a “scientific viewpoint,” one that doesn’t take natural operations for granted. We begin by teaching students how to gather information about the natural world, then we use what they learn as a springboard to ask the most important question: why? In the later grades, we teach scientific principles (e.g. characteristics of life, laws of motion); descriptions — that is, chronological narratives of orderly steps that occur again and again (e.g. life cycles, volcanic eruptions); and classifications (e.g. the periodic table, taxonomic categories). At all times, we reinforce their knowledge with hands-on experiments and demonstrations.
TECHNOLOGY’S RIGHTFUL PLACE
There’s a reason top executives of Silicon Valley giants send their kids to the Waldorf school, an elite institution that eschews the use of technology in the classroom: They know better than anyone that we do a grave disservice to children if we try to substitute computers for literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking. It is well settled that students reach enough intellectual maturity to process concretely and reason abstractly around the age of 14; experience has shown that when technology assumes a significant role in education before that age, it actually represses children’s natural curiosity and creative engagement with the world around them.
Not only does heavy dependence on computers interfere with appropriate cognitive development, it’s completely unnecessary. As one Google executive put it, technology “is super easy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste...there’s no reason kids can’t figure it out when they get older.” Especially as technology becomes more and more intuitive, students aren’t the slightest bit disadvantaged by waiting. Indeed, because technology advances so quickly these days, teaching students the operating systems and programming languages of this decade does them very little good for the future.
At OLMC, we are very deliberate in how we spend class time. We focus on equipping our students with the enduring tools that will fully prepare them to become leaders of tomorrow in the evolving fields of technology and beyond.
PREPARING STUDENTS FOR TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE
Just because we don’t spend class time teaching students to be consumers of current technology does not mean they’ll be unprepared for a STEM profession. Quite the opposite! In an increasingly connected world, the most sought after professionals in the tech industry are those who can communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, and adapt quickly to the ever evolving demands of the market. As one employer puts it, "You can have the best technology and processes in the world, but if your people aren't able to communicate about them, if they aren't effectively demonstrating teamwork, critical thinking and emotional intelligence, it doesn't help your business succeed."
Moreover, experts agree that the future of the U.S. digital economy is not in creating more programmers, but well-rounded individuals adept at strategic thinking. “The regular, day-to-day coding will be done in areas like India, China, eastern Europe, but the bigger picture stuff, what we call 'design thinking' is what's really necessary…[t]he concept of "design thinking" is a new name for creative problem solving - and that's at the heart of all technology innovation and new developments.” The skills cultivated through our classical liberal arts education uniquely position our students to excel in every single field of our ever-changing world.
A HANDS-ON CURRICULUM
Labs allow students to ask questions, investigate for answers, and collect data. They give children the time, space, and resources to exercise their curiosity, and we believe very strongly that experiments engage students in active learning in a way that textbooks and lectures cannot. So when it comes to hands-on education, the whole school gets involved. Among many other memorable projects, our students:
Take field trips to collect and study wildlife in its natural state
Visit Pyramid Mountain for geological study
Dissect frogs and examine live worms
Hatch chicks and grow butterflies
Gather at Sheep’s Hill observatory for a nighttime astronomy lesson
Create their own compost, grow yeast, and test soil
Participate in a school-wide egg drop competition
Our award winning STEM club is facilitated by Mrs. Ann Marie Cicala, one of our math and science teachers who is herself a STEM expert with two decades of experience as an industrial engineer. Under her guidance, our students have designed and constructed bridges, roller coasters, catapults, and trebuchets. They’ve experimented with color chromatography, pH indicators, and light. And they’ve put their critical thinking and problem solving skills to good use to win against several other schools in timed competition.