The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Focusing on STEM

While the past is solid and verifiable and the present surrounds us, the future is unknown. However, observing our surroundings can serve as a good indication for understanding what the future will hold.

In the last few years, the school has started putting a larger emphasis on enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) awareness and education. Starting six years ago when a group of parents organized STEM week for the school, the district board included plans to increase STEM awareness, technology and classes in their five-year plan. In addition, the MVLA Foundation has allotted money to go toward the STEM program at the school.

The school has been adding more AP science classes, with the addition of AP Physics B last year. The school is now expanding and creating more diverse science classes such as Robotics and Health Science Careers. Next year the Science Department will receive three new classrooms as well as more money for programs.

“Just throwing around ideas: we’ve talked about biotechnology; we’ve talked about anatomy and physiology; we’ve talked about building our classes so they’re more thematic based,” science teacher Danielle Paige said. “So maybe there’s a common theme, maybe doing more environmental science but have it carry through biology, chemistry and physics.”

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The funding and enthusiasm that makes this emphasis on STEM and the expansion of this department possible isn’t just coming from district organizations and parents.

“[Four or five] of the labs that we’re going to be running in AP Biology this year are actually donated from Stanford,” biology teacher Meghan Shuff said. “We’re going to run data and see if it helps students understand the concepts and kind of branch off from there and maybe develop some more of those labs for next year. We also have this great nonprofit called BABEC [Bay Area Biotech Education Consortium] and so they also give us discounted lab wear that we can use in class.”

And it’s not just universities and nonprofits that are helping the push for STEM programs. Last year, through grants from Google, Shuff was able to have AP Biology students travel to Ventura to perform experiments on rockfish DNA, the results of which are now published on the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD) website. Paige was also able to design and partake in some high level biotechnology labs with her life science class.

“It was mainly just a trial … to show students who don’t think that they’re capable of doing high-level science, that they are,” Paige said. “We don’t want students walking away thinking that to be involved in science you have to have a Masters, a Ph.D., or an M.D. … We also don’t want students walking away thinking that they have to be massive math geniuses to do anything related to science. There’s such a broad range of opportunities, and just the more that we can expose students to that, we hope that we can provide them with more ideas for what they want to do in the years ahead.”

As the science and technology worlds expand, so does the push for increased STEM programs in schools nationwide.

“I think it’s just kind of the nature of the economy and the world globally that there is an interest in really seeing that [expansion],” Paige said. “If you look at the job outlooks, the fastest growing job trend is in health sciences.”

While the Science Department is focusing on STEM concepts, they are still trying to keep some parts of the current curriculum.

“When you do projects like this, it really develops critical thinking and I think just as a human being it develops your mind, to be able to analyze information and weigh it out and say what is true and what is not true,” Shuff said.

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