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STEM program blends learning with practical skills

Templeton’s program first of its kind in B.C.

Three roving vehicles controlled through Wi-Fi and designed and constructed by senior Templeton secondary students were set to wow visitors to the new STEM program’s demonstration Thursday morning.

Three teams of Grades 11 and 12 students learned drafting software, designed their MARS rovers, built chassis, created custom cases for their circuit boards, used 3D printers to make holders for their computer chips, learned the physics they need to make their vehicles work and programmed computers so they could control their webcam-mounted rovers from afar.

STEM, which started for senior students at Templeton in September, blends science, technology, engineering and math. STEM teaches students practical design and fabrication skills to explore concepts and theories through hands-on, project-based learning in the four-course program.

Students explore mechanical, aerospace, civil, electrical, environmental and geotechnical/mining engineering along with computer science and programming.

Mike Hengeveld, department head of science at Templeton, says good timing brought STEM, a partnership between the Vancouver School Board, BCIT and global tech giant SAP, to fruition.

Hengeveld and tech teacher Jim Scoten had collaborated on projects for the students for years, and it made sense to turn such collaboration into a cohesive program.

“It’s so that people in my hockey group stop bugging me,” Hengeveld said. “I play hockey with a lot of engineers and a lot of post-secondary instructors, all in the maths and sciences, and they’re always wondering why it is… you have a kid coming in with 95 per cent, allegedly, in physics, but they don’t seem to know how a tricycle works.”

As a physics teacher, he’d long tasked his students with hands-on projects. He challenged them to power a car using a falling weight or create an accurate oven thermometer and has held catapult competitions.

“Kids really like it when they find that it’s not going to destroy their mark,” he said. “You do have to kind of convince them, look I’m not doing this to punish you, I’m doing this because I think it’s more valuable.”

Templeton principal Aaron Davis says SAP, a global tech giant that’s based in Germany and employs 1,200 people in Yaletown, approached the VSB about working with a school. SAP employees mentor students one-on-one. They provide assistance with projects and guidance on what field of study students should pursue. SAP designs software that handles transactions for clients that include Apple.  

The STEM program is the first of its kind in the province. Templeton staff collaborated with BCIT, UBC, SFU and industry partners to ensure STEM provides students the skills they need to thrive in future studies and workplaces, and to transition straight from high school to BCIT. Students are learning complex problem-solving, communication and time management skills along with technical expertise.

Three of the 23 students in STEM are girls and Grade 12 student Linda Cong is one of them. She applied for the program because she enjoyed and excelled in Hengeveld’s physics class last year that included a hands-on term project. She noticed few girls seemed interested, so decided to apply.
Cong plans to study engineering next year.

“Last year I didn’t even know what engineering was,” 17-year-old Cong said. “But hearing about the STEM program and just being in it really opened my eyes to what I can be capable of.”

She likes that she and her classmates don’t just complete a project, receive a mark and forget about it. Instead, they revisit their work to see how it can be improved.

“I like that it gives us the opportunity to actually learn from our mistakes. It’s just a really good way to learn theory and apply it,” she said, repeating students’ STEM mantra, “Fail fast, fail often.”

A Grade 8 STEM class will start at Templeton next September.