Academy of Notre Dame, Tyngsboro 7th graders Julie Chea, Neha Janardhan, Kurt Richer, Pratham Patel and Moira Thompson show off their mechanical arm project. Pilot photo/courtesy Academy of Notre Dame
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TYNGSBORO -- Students at the Academy of Notre Dame's elementary school learn more than reading and writing in their classrooms -- they are being taught to think, explore and create, according to Elizabeth O'Connell, principal of the Academy of Notre Dame's Lower School.
"A few years ago, we felt we needed a program that would have an inquiry-based teaching method," O'Connell explained. This "inquiry-based teaching method" became the school's (STEM) program, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
The school hired Jennifer Holder to be the STEM teacher, and the program began taking shape. For the past three years, Holder has built a STEM curriculum -- one that is filled with hands-on activities.
"Every year we have a Capstone Project, an in-depth project that takes an entire semester to research and another entire semester to make," Holder said.
One such example is the seventh and eighth grade's Mechanical arm project. Using only simple materials such as tape and popsicle sticks, students working in groups must create a fully functional mechanical arm.
"The arm must pick up a cup filled with small objects and turn the cup over and dump out the contents," she explained. "The students get to do research on their iPads at school, but they often get their ideas on their own."
The success of the school's STEM curriculum prompted the school's president, Randall Adams, to expand the program to include the arts.