Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Macon County’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program is in its second year, and has grown to include students across Macon County Schools. Macon County Schools STEM Coordinator Jennifer Love updated members of the board of education earlier this month, outlining the program’s role in the school system.

One of the STEM program’s most active initiatives is the district’s Robotics teams.

“We have 13 teams spread out between Mountain View, Macon Middle, Franklin High, Macon Early College, Highlands, Nantahala and Trimont,” said Love. “There are 99 students participating on robotics teams this year.  We also have 16 team mentors and several folks who are volunteering with teams and will help out with the tournament on Dec. 3.”

Drake Software and Cherokee Preservation Foundation have been huge supporters of the SMART (Smoky Mountain Area Robotics Teams) league this season.  “We are looking to do a robotics club at some of the elementary schools and at Union this spring to get those students ready to join the league and competition next year,” Love said of plans to continue growing the district’s STEM program.

“STEM in Macon County is not trying to implement more science, technology, engineering and math in schools but we are trying to give teachers the tools, materials and training to teach with fewer teacher-directed methods and more student directed/inquiry-based methods,” said Love. “When creating STEM lessons think, ‘How can I incorporate student directed problem solving into this lesson?’  Once you ask this question, you are on your way to creating projects for students.  These projects are where students use the arts to create, present or experiment/engineer.”

In addition to the robotics team throughout various schools in Macon County, Love is going into the classrooms and holding STEM parent nights, STEM afterschool activities and other programs in Macon County.

“The Golden Leaf Foundation grant is supporting STEM activities in middle and high schools but the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative grant (NASA grant) and the STEM-E Groups Unite grant through the Cherokee Preservation Foundation are helping to support K-12 STEM education,” said Love.

One of the most recent STEM projects Love coordinated was a Spooky Sound and Engineering program where students worked to create a soundtrack for Halloween. Ben Walker from Backlot Studio spoke to students about his job as a video producer and how he uses sound engineering everyday.

As Macon County Schools STEM coordinator, Love has objectives when working with students and incorporating STEM activities into the existing curriculum. Love’s objectives include:

·         Career Development and creating a clear path of STEM opportunities (classes, internships, field trips, career fairs) from middle school/high school through to community college and higher education

·         Career Learning Experiences with local industries – field trips, career fairs, internships

·         Professional Development for K-12 teachers in STEM and project-based learning through The Science House, Discovery Education, Invent Now and other organizations

·         Enrichment opportunities for all students after school (SMART Robotics, Invention Project, STEM Family Nights, High School STEM Coffee House) and during the summer (STEM Camps)

·         Provide materials and supplies for teachers in the classroom so they can promote and support STEM education

STEM education takes a hands-on approach to science technology, engineering, and math, something that has become increasingly less apparent in the day-to-day activities of public education. Some have asked why STEM doesn’t include either arts or social sciences.

“STEM does stand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math but what it really stands for is problem solving and critical thinking practice in the classroom,” said Love. “STEM is not a checklist that stands for topics to be covered.  When you add the ‘A’ for Arts or an ‘S’ at the end for Social Sciences, you make it a checklist.  STEM disciplines are subjects that lend themselves to problem solving through the design process and the scientific method.  STEM subjects also encourage curiosity and exploration. Creativity and the arts are inherent in critical thinking and problem solving.  The arts support all aspects of STEM through brain development, presenting your ideas and creative problem solving.”


Love’s next STEM program, which is open to all students in Macon County is scheduled for next Thursday the Macon County Public Library. The library is hosting a Stargazing Night.  Love will be there to coordinate a STEM activity with Sphero robots.  The event kicks off at 6 p.m. and runs to 8 p.m.