Charlotte Christian puts student discovery first

Dana Brickner, right, helps third-grade students at Charlotte Christian School utilize the school’s new iPads by using the application Owl Pellet, which helps students identify different bones and species found during the dissection of an owl pellet.

While third-grade students at Charlotte Christian School dissect owl pellets in the school’s new STEM lab with STEM coordinator Dana Brickner, their science learning and discovery can now go outside the lab and back into the classrooms, thanks to new and updated technology and curriculum at the school.
While using the Owl Pellet application on the lower school’s new iPad 3s, third-graders identified bones and animals in a hands-on way. And with the movability of the school’s 30 new iPads, they were able to take their projects back to the classroom and reconstruct the bones back into skeletons—all with guidance from the new technology.
The lower schools 30 new iPad’s are only part of the schools new STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math initiative. The school also invested in new science, engineering kits, plus new curriculum for all lower school grades and added a multi-touch SMART Board to the new lab. In addition, a new Apple computer was also purchased for the STEM facilitator to use in conjunction with the new technology.
Theresa Kasay, director of academics at the school, said the reason for the new STEM initiative was to help create a 21st century learning environment.
“As fast as technology moves, for us to prepare students who are globally competitive and who are 21st century learners, we have to start with lower school students because those foundations are established through their understandings,” Kasay said.
Dana Brickner, the lower school’s new STEM coordinator, is driving the initiative, which challenges kids to be more discovery-oriented. Brickner, who previously worked as a teacher in Union County Public Schools, came to Charlotte Christian as the first in her position. As the STEM facilitator, her job is to help encourage student discovery.
“I think one of the biggest things with this initiative is shifting our mindset,” Kasay said. “We want it to be student discovery. We want them to have hands-on, student lead activities with them asking the questions. Ms. Brickner is here to facilitate and guide them, but the activities are student lead.”
Kasay said the school spent a year planning for the updates and changes. They visited several schools and met with professors from University of North Carolina at Charlotte to talk about STEM programs and curriculum.
“Stem is really a broad umbrella. We wanted to offer both with technology and curriculum,” Kasay said, adding that the initiative at Charlotte Christian is only the first of several phases based on STEM.
Next year, the school hopes to incorporate more technology through digital microscopes. Several already exist on the campus, but Kasay said they would like for the lower school STEM lab to have microscopes of its own.
“If we don’t take this time now to teach our lower school students about technology, as they are exposed to new technologies down the road, they will have no foundation of understanding,” Kasay said. “But if you watch them, it’s apart of their everyday life—this is their life. The technology doesn’t scare any of the students because it’s a normal part of their everyday experience. They utilize the technology with ease.
“And now, they are genuinely excited about science,” she added.

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