New Course to Offer Comprehensive Intro to STEAM


Anne Schill.

By Kristen Fan, Staff Writer

A new STEAM Foundations course next year would introduce students to STEM and art disciplines to encourage a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. If approved by the MVLA School Board, the year-long course will be the first in a proposed LAHS Academy of Engineering and Design.

Approved by Los Altos’ Leadership Team last month, Foundations employs a cross-departmental team of teachers and works with topics like engineering, 3D modeling, coding, robotics, technical writing and drawing. Each quarter of the course will be taught by a different teacher, and the Leadership Team aims to have 100 students circulating the course next year.

In coming years, the Leadership Team seeks to review and approve more courses for the proposed Academy, for which Foundations serves as an introductory course. If fully implemented, Academy students would choose an area of focus after Foundations: engineering, computer science, art or fabrication.

Students would take a two year “pathway” course to deepen their knowledge of that area before a “capstone” course their senior year. The capstone, yet to be fully designed, would bring together students from different pathways to create four-member interdisciplinary teams to work on self-directed projects.

The Leadership Team has identified some pathways that already exist, such as Introduction to Computer Science and AP Computer Science. Pathway courses are still open to enrollment for all students, and students who have already taken pathway courses can take Foundations and skip to the capstone course the following year. The Leadership Team expects students to shape pathways, which will be flexible through course demand.

The options should be limitless,” math teacher Adam Anderson said. “If there’s really a pathway that isn’t very popular, then it will be replaced organically through the desires of the students.”

The Academy would be more comprehensive and incorporate more interdisciplinary work than any STEM-based Los Altos program before it. In allowing students to explore a variety of disciplines and their interconnections, go into depth into one topic and combine disciplines into a real-world project, it offers a longer-term, more carefully-tracked progression than the senior-only Advanced Science Investigations or the Robotics program.

To history teacher Sarah Alvarado, the Academy offers a collaborative STEAM experience more in sync with modern day career demands.

“Connected learning is more like the real world, so we don’t really look at one subject in a vacuum,” history teacher Sarah Alvarado said. “Engineers in the real world aren’t just focused on this one piece of engineering, they have to be able to collaborate with different people and talk about different things and come at their problems from different angles.

“One of the pieces of the Academy is to bring in some of our local community into the conversation of how we keep it relevant and current with what the local career here in Silicon Valley demands.”

The team is still planning the overall framework of the Academy, which could include partnerships in the capstone year with companies like Google, Samsung and Cisco.

Opportunities for expansion also exist after the program’s launch. In the future, entire new pathways could be created.

“The pathway model that we have adopted when a teacher from another department comes to us and says this will be great to add, we can just create a new pathway and the options should be limitless,” Anderson said. “If there’s a pathway that isn’t very popular, then it will be replaced organically.”

He expressed hope that the Academy, inspired by a program he and science teacher Stephen Hine saw at the Maker Faire in Santa Barbara, would give students a taste of what’s to come after graduation.

“We have the minds to make that happen, and it’s a lot of fun,” Anderson said. “I’m not expecting them to change the world, but I’m expecting more drones and more wacky, student-built innovations on campus in the next few years because of the program.”