STEAM

Students working in science class

Whitfield introduces STEAM skills and concepts that students immediately use in their classes and will lean upon in college and in the working world.  This emphasis on practical application ensures we are cultivating tomorrow's community leaders and innovators.

APPROACH TO STEAM EDUCATION

Most people agree that STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) is about more than the sum of its parts. However, it is rare to find a community that excels at purposefully generating intersections between these topics in a practical way that leads to innovative thinking and learning.  Even more rare is finding a community that brings practical applications of STEAM into classrooms to inspire innovative thinking and learning. Whitfield is one of these communities.
 
Across grade levels and academic departments, our students and teachers immerse themselves in STEAM-forward learning in ways that are meaningful, authentic, and, most importantly, relevant.  To that end, our approach to technology makes both hardware and software abundantly available, which presents an equally abundant number of opportunities to guide our students as they adhere to our acceptable use policy, make screen time decisions that impact wellness, and make ethical and kind choices about the content they share publicly.

The Habits of Mind & Heart inform everything we do. Whitfield's commitment to character development extends to the IT realm through acceptable use guidelines, digital citizenship, copyright, and mindfulness.

Whitfield provides a powerful, flexible infrastructure and laptop experience for all students, faculty, and staff members. Windows 10 laptops from the Microsoft Surface Pro line allow us to touch, type, or hand write in a digital world. And, access to a suite of software and services (from Adobe Creative Cloud to Office 365) allows all our students and faculty to collaborate and create on a professional level.  Yet, more often than not, our students will be reaching for pencil and paper, collaborating across both the physical and digital worlds, and looking up at classmates instead of down at a computer.

1:1

Student to laptop ratio

2 Years

Frequency of laptop upgrades

5

Technology Team members

100%

Students exposed to Computer Science

BOLD COLLABORATIONS

Classrooms + Integrated Design Specialists

Long-established as an area leader in 1:1 technology (today each student is issued a Microsoft Surface Pro laptop and digital pen), Whitfield could simply employ a team of traditional IT support personnel tasked with fixing hardware when it breaks. “That’s not really our style,” says Lisa Barry Jenkins, Whitfield’s Assistant Director of Technology. Although the school’s hardware, software, and university-level infrastructure are industry leading, Barry Jenkins continues, “we’ve developed an IT model that puts the focus on supporting people, not just machines.”
 
Starting with one technology integration specialist in 2010, Whitfield now has a team of specialists—each with unique strengths and expertise—who partner with teachers to inject foundational STEAM skills and experiences into core academic classes across the curriculum, for all students.
Barry Jenkins and DiGiulio are part of that team, specializing in STEAM and information science design respectively. Other members of the team include Ashley Hastey (technology, teaching and learning, communications) and Andrew Asikainen (computer science, mathematics, STEAM).
 
“These are not full-time teachers,” DiGiulio says. “They are experienced educators working as full-time integrators, tasked with helping design and teach alongside all Whitfield faculty members.” This commitment to collaboration is unrivaled in secondary education and serves as a catalyst for STEAM education and innovation in Whitfield classrooms.
 
Just as our specialists move from classroom to classroom, most of Whitfield’s STEAM resources are mobile.  Because of this, any classroom can become a “maker space” at any time. This philosophy, combined with the school’s laptop program and open access philosophy to professional software, helps create an environment of exploration and innovation. In this way, we are preparing all students to become active contributors and innovators in a digital world.

Field Studies + Robotics

Whitfield science teacher Dr. Heather Lavezzi designs her curriculum to develop skills that are applicable in the real world and relevant for her students.  In her Field Studies course, an interdisciplinary, immersive science class, tenth and eleventh graders develop essential skills (scientific investigation, design thinking, engineering, nutrient and water cycles) through project-based learning.  As a science class, Field Studies would already be considered part of any STEAM program.  At Whitfield, it’s an opportunity to layer T-E-A-M and create innovative intersections.  
 
“This could be a lecture- and case study-based course, but we want students digging in and doing the work themselves,” says Dr. Lavezzi. “This means that we’re practicing the work and experiencing the failure and success associated with the work, instead of just talking about it.” Collaboration with Whitfield’s integrated design specialists led to a number of innovative STEAM intersections in her classroom, including one that linked the abstract concepts of speed, angles and vectors, time and distance, and friction with their practical application in the field of autonomous vehicles. This required the use of small robots that students programmed to follow courses representing city streets.  Working in teams, students calculated and built a track for Sphero robots that modeled an actual road that a car would travel. Each "road", had to be less than two meters long, have at least seven distinct segments, and turn at a different angle each time. To be successful, the Sphero had to follow the road exactly.  “Coding the Sphero to navigate our road design was challenging but it was also fun,” said Liz Bierhals ’22. “We had to make adjustments for changes in speed and just go one segment at a time for it to work. I also enjoyed learning more about the technology behind self-driving cars.”

UX Design + Social Studies

Opportunities to design intersections between these skills are surprisingly abundant, even with Whitfield’s youngest students. In our 7th grade social studies course, teachers and integrated design specialists use cultural competency concepts to teach user experience (UX) design; UX design work then reinforces the practical application of cultural competency skills. Having the right collaborative infrastructure in place is critical to the success of this process.

“Working with [Director of Equity & Inclusion] Anna Warbelow and [Director of Technology] Matt DiGiulio to teach and continually refine our Africa Infographic Project has made it an incredible experience for students,” says middle school social studies teacher Mary Schnitzler. In this six-week project, students do the work of a traditional research paper, then package that work by mimicking the app development process. Students study the UX design profession, conduct user research, apply conditional statements to storyboard their design concepts, then build fully functioning touchscreen exhibits.

Cultural competency lessons support not only the study of other cultures, but the active decision making that is required to consider multiple perspectives and design products for others. “As students move through the UX design process, we use language from our cultural competency lessons to coach students through the development of their products,” DiGiulio says. “This helps students recognize their own design biases and create in a way that celebrates their individual style while looking through the eyes of others.” The process of utilizing STEAM skills, like UX design, in a social studies classroom also provides students the opportunity to extend their study of traditional skills (like reading, writing, and research) in a practical, real-world way.

Diversity + Computer Science

Staff members from Whitfield’s academic administration, teaching and learning, wellness, and diversity departments also partner with our integration specialists. This produces a cross-pollination of ideas that results in some of the most innovative support structures and STEAM programming in education today.

Case in point is Whitfield’s new Foundations course for ninth graders. Created in 2018, this required sequence of trimester courses provides freshmen the opportunity to dig into topics and trends that are immediately relevant and critical for growth within and beyond Whitfield classrooms. One of those trimester courses, Computer Science & Society, combines the design power of Andrew Asikainen and Director of Equity & Inclusion Dr. Anna Warbelow.

“Combining diversity concepts with computer science education is much more relevant for students than if we were teaching either subject on its own,” say Asikainen and Warbelow in a joint interview. “Everything we hear from tech industry experts points towards the intersection of these worlds as we prepare students to design and build the tools that will drive their communities in the future.” Concepts like social identity, coding, big data, and implicit bias don’t normally fit together in high school or higher education courses. Whitfield believes that this intentional blend of “hard” and “soft” skills is necessary both for student success here and for the continued growth of STEAM industries at the local and national levels.

Wellness + Technology

Valuing our students’ success in tomorrow’s STEAM-forward communities means preparing them for a future in which they will spend long hours working alongside computers and autonomous assistants. To do that, we combine workforce and wellness research to make sure we are building a foundation that embraces expected change, growth, and creativity in a way that Whitfield students can carry with them for a lifetime.

Basic file organization. Manipulation of digital information. Writing and presentation skills. Ownership and responsibility. An ability to adapt to different digital interfaces and environments. Computer-based critical thinking, problem solving, and self-guided learning. At Whitfield, students develop general competency by mastering a slew of foundational IT skills. We refer to this mastery as “digital fluency.” Then, by layering “digital wellness” on top of fluency, we help our students set healthy boundaries and develop a sustainable relationship with technology. This experience with mindfulness and self-awareness starts with adult guidance and sets Whitfield students up with a competitive advantage as they are able to set boundaries for themselves.

“It’s not easy, but digging into digital wellness—at home and at school—is one of our greatest responsibilities as parents and teachers,” says Whitfield’s Director of Health and Wellness Ginny Fendell. The collaboration between wellness and technology manifests as advisory programming, a no cell phone policy, an awareness of the biological processes at play when we interact digitally, and an acceptable use of technology policy that emphasizes social media, personal growth, character, integrity, relationships, and ongoing conversation while setting expectations and boundaries.

STEAM LEADERSHIP

Matt DiGiulio

Director of Technology

Matt DiGiulio

Director of Technology

"We are at our best when we’re working across boundaries and alongside others. Although it would be easier to stick to our silos, we thoughtfully weave the things that are important to us into the fabric of our academic program."

Lisa Barry Jenkins

Assistant Director of Technology

Lisa Barry Jenkins

Assistant Director of Technology

"We support students and faculty first and systems second.  The Support Desk is a hub where we  collaborate with students and faculty, explore technology options, answer questions, and provide support.  In classrooms our team consults with students on project ideation, leads workshops on new tools, and supports faculty.  Our 1:1 laptop program mirror's our commitment to the Habits of Mind & Heart, guiding students to healthy technology habits that they will take with them when they graduate."

Ashley Hastey

Technology Integration Specialist

Ashley Hastey

Technology Integration Specialist

"Student engagement starts with trust. I approach each task as though I were a student and focus on showing them the most efficient way to work.I feel fortunate to be able to help students develop strategies they can apply to achieve both academic and personal goals."

Andrew Asikainen

Computer Science Integration Specialist

Andrew Asikainen

Computer Science Integration Specialist

"Students at Whitfield are risk takers who are interested in learning. Teaching computer science allows me to see the creative tenacity in our students. They learn through doing and are actively willing to fail in order to learn how programming works. The students have the motivation to learn, and many times, they take challenges further than required because of their curiosity."