Published February 6, 2018
It was an ambitious request. Educator John Walz was
asked in 2016 to build a STEAM program for Silvestri
Junior High School in Las
Vegas, Nevada. The vision
was multifaceted: expose
students to a wide range of
subjects to hook their interest
while also exploring key areas in
greater depth – and at the same
time keep the program flexible to
accommodate changes that might
be needed. Walz had experience to draw from, having both led
a middle school educational technology program and worked
in a position helping elementary and middle school teachers
integrate technology in their classrooms.
“I did some research looking at where the programs I used
many moons before have evolved and the costs it would
take to implement a program,” explains Walz. In the end, he
proposed a program largely based on Pitsco resources. The
convenience and array of offerings, both curriculum and
one-off projects and kits, drew
Walz to Pitsco.
Currently the program, taught
by Walz and another teacher,
Dr. Pregosin, includes 18 Pitsco
middle-level curriculum titles and a
new whole-class STEM Expedition®.
These introduce students to
numerous career paths they might
pursue in high school and beyond.
Several three- and five-week units delve a bit deeper. These
include units in digital photography, animation, engineering
that utilizes Pitsco bridge-building kits; a robotics program
based in TETRIX® that emphasizes 21st-century skills and
higher-order thinking; and 3-D design and printing from Pitsco.
“Pitsco provided a foundation for us to launch our STEAM program. It
provided curriculum supported by standards in a variety of areas. This reduced
the amount of time needed to create our own,” says Walz.
The program has remained dynamic since its start, seeing one major
expansion in the second year and continual growth through homegrown lesson
plans developed by both teacher and, interestingly, students – the advanced
classes’ writing lessons in PowerPoint and Google forms for the lower-level
classes are based on experiments and activities they have conducted.
One significant factor shaping the program is the drive to make it keenly
relevant to students’ lives by tailoring it to the economy of Nevada. For
example, the state’s ever-growing tourism industry made Hotel Management
a perfect pick for Silvestri students. And the important mining industry was
a deciding factor in the purchase of the Mining Mechanics STEM Expedition.
The state has also emphasized teaching students to code, and to this end,
the TETRIX robotics, combined with the PULSE™ Robotics Controller, Arduino
hardware, and a popular online coding resource library, was a perfect solution.
“It gives the students a firsthand experience completing online and
hands-on activities in many different fields. For some of our students this is
their first experience of taking charge of their own learning. . . . The STEAM
program absolutely gives students exposure to careers and job possibilities.
It also helps give students the knowledge they can look for programs and
studies in high schools and magnet schools,” he said.
The program has been a rousing success, and the emphasis on STEAM in
the school will only increase.
Walz explains: “Silvestri JHS will become Silvestri STEAM Academy next
school year. Pitsco products are the front-runner to the programs driving this
upcoming change. . . . We get tremendous responses from parents about the
labs and the opportunities their children receive. I can’t count the number
of times I’ve heard from parents, ‘I wish I had this opportunity when I was in