New STEM courses at the Academy are as open and varied as the field itself. Last spring we launched a research and design course. In the 2015-16 year, we will also offer courses on electronics & telecommunications and computational thinking & coding. Computational thinking (CT) is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. It is considered one of the essential skills for today’s students in the same way that reading, writing and arithmetic has always been an essential educational skill. These courses are all an outcome of our partnership with Northwestern University – widely considered the “thought leaders” on CT.

Speaking about her research and design course, Dr. Rochelle Green, ICJA’s director of 21 century teaching and learning and course instructor, says, “Look at this pen. It took science, technology, engineering and math to develop it at exactly the right weight and shape.”

The same is true for everything around us from something as simple as a toothbrush to as complex as a computer. “Everything we take for granted was created with STEM,” says Dr. Green.

After a semester of study with Dr. Green, seniors – who have lived their entire lives with the most sophisticated technology most of us ever dreamed of – better understand the puzzle pieces that make everything work. They discover the new learning and critical thinking techniques required to solve problems of which even their instructor does not yet know the answer.

“As students learn to solve problems, I’ll learn from them,” says Dr. Green

Tri-weekly lessons consist of guest speakers who present real-world business problems, group discussions and hands-on problem solving. The idea is to take the knowledge students have learned from compartmentalized courses in math and science and then apply it to the multidisciplinary concept of STEM. Students will then relate the lessons to their own personal and professional goals.

The class culminates in a problem-based learning capstone projects where students individually or collaboratively work to solve an actual problem.

“I want the students to choose a project that they feel passionate about, and the sky’s the limit,” says Dr. Green.

Read more about Dr. Green, who has several years’ experience teaching STEM on a university level and how she and the rest of the Academy staff and administration intend to “think big” about creating new ways to prepare our students for university and careers in the 21st century.