Learning and Doing in new STEM program

Stem Photo
Learning and Doing in Middle School’s new STEM Class
Posted on 09/22/2022
In a quiet corner on the bottom floor of South Milwaukee Middle School, there’s a room with tall ceilings above and darkened squares on the parquet floors where heavy equipment or tables might have been.

It’s clearly a workshop, which makes it the perfect place for the school’s new STEM Lab. 

“Who doesn’t have a power cord?” teacher Julie Barnett asks, holding a wire up in the air. “Who needs a tray?” 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – a new course being offered at the middle school aimed to prepare interested students for the Career and Tech program at the high school level. 

With the new program comes a new teacher. Barnett, who lives just down the road from the school has worked at St. Anthony’s Catholic School and for a decade at Discovery World in Milwaukee. 

One recent day, eighth-grade students are hooking their District-issued Chromebooks to Arduino Boards – circuit boards that the students can program to do just about anything – control lights, sniff and analyze the air or taste and analyze water. 

In just the past few weeks since school began, Barnett has been teaching about automation – starting with lessons on ancient wooden automatons that ran on gears and springs all the way up to systems controlled by computers. 

“I love the hands-on stuff,” Barnett said. “That’s why I wanted to take this job – to do a lot of the cool stuff I like.” 

Her curriculum is designed to give students the skills they need to do more complicated work in the High School’s FabLab in the Career and Technical Education Department.

Students who choose that path in high school position themselves for college credit and/or industry-recognized credentials in careers in advanced manufacturing, architecture and construction, finance, and patient care.

“In my sixth-grade classes, they’re getting basic measurements, basic design, and blueprints,” Barnett said.

“In seventh grade, we dive really deep into electricity.” Those students learn how electricity works, how to be safe with it, and how it can be used to do work.

By eighth grade, students are building systems using computer coding to accomplish tasks. 

“We’ve gotten into that already,” Barnett, holding up a circuit board, said.

“We’re exploring making circuits that can change the world around us like traffic lights and monitoring water quality. Their end goal is to make a little automated city. … Hopefully, they’ll see something they like that will follow them into high school.”