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March 10, 2020
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is the cornerstone of formal education. The skills learned in a STEM classroom can be applied to every part of life, be it academic or otherwise. At Admiral Farragut Academy, where engineering is considered a signature program, students from PreK all the way up to 12th grade have the opportunity to learn these valuable skills and to find passions in areas that they may not have known existed, and that may not exist for years to come.
Part of the great mess of learning is making mistakes, and that’s something that applies even outside of a STEM lab. “You need to learn how to fail, recognize it, and move on,” says Carolyn VanArsdale, upper school engineering teacher at Farragut. “In engineering, that’s what we literally do every day by using materials like tools, machines, computer programs, and software to figure out the problem. It’s that perseverance that helps students really learn in STEM.”
An important part of engineering is critiquing your work, and a lot of that is learning to accept criticism from other people. It’s not necessarily about whether you were successful in the project or you failed the project. It’s the process of taking feedback, the process of deciding whether or not you liked it, whether or not it worked, and why.
“Engineering reaches the students that don’t feel that they’re good at math or language arts, but when they apply it to something, they realize that they can do it,” says Shannon LoRusso, lower school engineering teacher at Farragut. “If you don’t get it right, it’s okay; just try it again. It’s not like a math problem where there’s only one way to solve the problem.” In engineering, there are many ways to complete a task, there’s no wrong answer, and you can explore whatever way you want to do it, whether it’s a drawing or a project or a machine.
Admiral Farragut Academy offers many different engineering courses, from PreK all the way up to 12th grade. In Lower School, students learn coding as young as Kindergarten and advance over time to VEX robotics in 7th grade. In Upper School, students have the opportunity to take Intro to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, and Advanced Engineering. Upper school engineering students have built many practical things for the campus, including new tables for the engineering room and an outdoor aquaponics system that is used by the biology classes. There are also clubs offered, including Lego Robotics in Lower School and Drone Club in Upper School.
“Farragut definitely values STEM,” says Mrs. VanArsdale. “They are very helpful and supportive in getting innovative tools and being willing to try new things to help the program. It’s a driving force for students coming here. They see a lot of the hands-on opportunities and how we’re applying all that in our classrooms. Any given time you walk through a science or engineering classroom, the students are busy, they’re doing stuff and they’re actively engaged in learning.
Research shows that in the future, in the whole realm of technical jobs, there’s going to be a shortage of tech talent. There’s going to be some very competitive opportunities for students in the near future in any of those skilled trade areas, including engineering. As Farragut alumnus and moonwalking astronaut, Charlie Duke ‘53S said, “Keep in mind when I graduated from Farragut people did not know what an astronaut was, it was not something you prepared for.” Our teachers are faced with the unique task of preparing their students for jobs that may not even exist yet.
Farragut’s engineering program has multiple opportunities in many different areas. It gives students experience and project-based learning in areas like mechanical, civil, energy, architecture, structure, material science, aerospace, marine, and so many more. “These students are 13, 14, and 15 years old trying to figure out what they want to do the rest of their lives and they just don’t know,” said Mrs. VanArsdale. “The more variety of experiences we can give them, the more that they can then decide what it is that they really love doing, what they’re passionate about, and then transfer that into their careers for life. At Farragut, we really strive to give them as much opportunity with an experience that really drives them into a direction or a pathway that fits them individually.”
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