Spurred by growing concerns that American students lack the skills to compete in a global economy, school districts nationwide are focusing on STEM programs, teaching those subjects to an increasingly younger audience.
Proponents of STEM programs say that engineering reinforces math and science skills, promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks.
Principal Tyler Howe, who will lead the new yet unnamed school in West Valley City, recently left his post at Truman Elementary in order to oversee the construction and staffing of the STEM facility.
Howe and his teachers will lead the way in educating students, who they believe will one day be capable of filling the more than 100,000 STEM-related jobs needed in Utah by 2018.
"It's not what we teach but how we teach that is going to be different," Howe said Monday, sitting in the construction portable just outside the school, which has its outer walls going up. The school is expected to be ready the first or second week of August.
Projects-based learning often takes students step by step through the engineering process: design, build, test, evaluate.
Howe gave an example from his teaching days, when he instilled math lessons by having his students drop eggs off the school roof using a bungee cord. His students' objective was getting the egg as close to the ground as possible without cracking it into a million pieces.
Howe said even in elementary grades, educators can connect classroom learning to real life, as well as instill social skills like collaboration.
"Projects-based learning answers [students'] age-old question: When am I going to use this [in my life]?" Howe said.
The new school is one-of-a-kind, said architect Jim Durby, noting that the school will have several unique features. Classrooms will have raised flooring so there's space for computer cables as well as 122 geothermal wells, which circulate warmer water for lower cooling/heating costs.
"The goal is to create a high-tech learning environment," Durby said.
Added Howe: "Both inside and outside the school."
UTAH STEM fast facts
• Between 2008 and 2018, new jobs in Utah requiring education beyond high school will grow by 202,000, while jobs for high school graduates will grow by 97,000.
• In that decade, Utah will create 477,000 job vacancies: 308,000 of these jobs will be for those with education beyond high school, 126,000 for high-school graduates and 43,000 for high-school dropouts.
• In 2018, 66 percent of all jobs in Utah (1 million) will require some training beyond high school.
O Check out how Utah officials plan to spotlight STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. > http://stemconnector.org/state-by-state/utah S
O Parents can now sign up their children to attend the new STEM school in West Valley City using the open-enrollment process. About 70 parents have signed up so far, so there are about 230 seats left to be filled on a first-come, first-enrolled basis. To sign up > http://bit.ly/TRW8yf