WEST BEND - The West Bend Mallard school system is focusing on science and technology with the help of some Iowa grant money.
"We have applied for STEM grants this year, and we feel very lucky to have received three grants," said Superintendent Nancy Schmitz.
The high school received three grants through the state's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program. The students will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge, building robots; be involved with solar energy through the FREE program; and participate in robotics, video game building, and multimedia work through Hyperstream.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Parker Thompson, a freshman and member of the STEM club, examines a sample robot from the First Tech Challenge program. Students built a robot like this one for a Feb. 2 competition.
The elementary school TAG teacher also received a STEM grant, Schmitz said.
Science teacher Carlene Heschke said her students were prepared for the FIRST Tech Challenge which was held Saturday.
"They have to design and build and program a robot that plays the game," Heschke said. "There will be 30 seconds of autonomous, where the robot has to run itself. Then there's two minutes where two people each have a controller."
The robot has to pick up a ring from three different heights, she said.
Schmitz said these kind of programs will continue.
"It's just going to get better," she said. "We're told there's going to be more money coming out. What the state STEM group has done is, they're looking at I want to say 10 different grants you can apply for, and they keep looking at opportunities for kids to do hands-on work, and then they back up these certain companies that have those.
"While the kids are having a ball doing this, look what they're learning. They're using math, and they're using science, and they're using computer programming. It is so cool."
Grades nine through 12 have one laptop per student for the first time this year, said high school Principal Amanda Schmidt.
"We started working with the teachers about two years ago on different strategies how to teach with these laptops," said Schmidt. "The teachers are using them to enhance learning, as another teaching tool. The students are using them for anything from doing research to projects to Skyping with other people, to working on Google Documents from home together."
Teachers post many of the assignments on Schoology.com, so if students are absent they can keep up with the class.
The transition is going well because of that two-year training period, Schmitz said.
"You hear horror stories about this or this that happens in schools. I think sometimes those things happen because of lack of preparation," she said. "I feel like the fact we spent a year talking about it, and another year getting ready with just the teachers, made a huge difference for us. We have had relatively no issues at all."
Next year, the one-to-one program will be expanded to include seventh and eighth grades. However, their computers will remain at school, while ninth- through12th-graders can take their computers home.
This will benefit Gilmore City-Bradgate students as well. In January the boards of both schools agreed to expand their grade-sharing program. Next year, seventh and eighth grades will come from Gilmore City to West Bend.
The school districts have been whole-grade sharing ninth- through 12th-grade classes for the last two years.
The West Bend school will be moving towards more security in the future.
Access to the building during the day is already limited to the main entrance, but next year that will be more secured.
"We're going to set up a system where you have to buzz in to come in, and we'll have a camera to see who's coming in," Schmitz said. "It's unfortunate that we have to do it. As a district, we have to do everything we can do."
The school's 15-year-olds took the Program for International Student Assessment this year
"We were a pilot school," said Schmidt. "There were only two schools in Iowa that took that test."
The PISA test is designed to test higher-level thinking and problem solving skills rather than just simple cut-and-dried multiple choice, said Schmitz. More importantly, it compares students from around the world.
"If you look at student scores, students in Shanghai, students in Hong Kong, students in Canada, we're way below," she said. "One of the assessments they use to make that determination is the PISA assessment, because it's the only thing that they all do, that they can compare apples to apples.
"We felt pretty honored. We're anxious to see how our students have done."