Hetherington Setting the Pace in STEM Education

Hetherington Elementary boosted their impressive STEM credentials this past April.

Chuck Stoffle – who runs the school’s Makerspace – became one of the first teachers in Canada to be STEM certified by the American non-profit organization STEM.org that provides curriculum coaching and credentialing.

“There is a certain level you reach teaching STEM, and you want to learn more, go deeper and become a better teacher,” says Stoffle, who estimates he spent over 40 hours on the online certification process.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and Hetherington has carved out a pretty solid reputation as a STEM leader in Windsor-Essex.

Stoffle runs one of the few – if not the only – full time, dedicated, elementary school Makerspaces in the region where students spend two periods per week on design challenges and projects that combines elements of science, math, social studies and language while integrating technology and coding to enhance learning.

“If they are studying forces, we work with gravity cars where we build rolling chassis, apply weights and pulleys that run the car,” he says.  “It’s hands on, it’s putting theory into practise.”

Stoffle also mentors the FIRST Lego League (FLL) team that was assembled in 2018 called the Robohawks, which participates in the prestigious and global FIRST Robotics competition.  FLL encourages students to not only apply their technical skills, but also build soft skills such as collaboration, problem solving and communication.

It is all part of the evolution of STEM and the recognition that students are often inspired to pursue science and technology when they see it interacting with their world and when they have the opportunity to combine their passion for STEM with other skill sets.

It’s one reason students at Hetherington get to produce their own YouTube Channel dedicated to all things STEM, interviewing students and talking about their projects, as well as running a morning radio show that broadens the discussion about the school and community.

Stoffle found out about the STEM.org certification through WEtech Alliance – the Regional Innovation Centre that helps accelerate tech companies while also helping to build the regional tech talent pipeline.

He was one of fifteen frontline staff at the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) enrolled in the Innovation Catalyst program run by WEtech Alliance that prepares frontline staff to become internal engines of innovation.

“Both the STEM certification and Innovation Catalyst change the way you look at teaching, problem solving and collaboration,” says Stoffle.  “They also broaden your network and your asset map, so I would absolutely recommend both programs.”

Brian Aspinall is a former elementary school teacher and the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence and Teaching Excellence in STEM.

He works as a university instructor in various Faculties of Education, maintains a blog on teaching STEM, has guidebooks on Amazon for teachers who bring coding into classrooms, and has three Tedx appearances under his belt.

He loves hearing about the work of passionate teachers like Stoffle and schools like Hetherington that are real incubators of innovation in STEM teaching.

“Chuck’s work demonstrates the importance of STEM education and shows just how inspiring educators are with regards to their own professional development,” says Aspinall.  “It is imperative we continue to develop these kinds of skills, not only with our students, but with our staff, as the jobs of tomorrow require innovative problem solvers, critical thinkers and collaborators.”

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Dr. Irek Kusmierczyk, PhD is the Director of Partnerships at WEtech Alliance. Irek received his PhD in Political Science from Vanderbilt University, MSc in Government from the London School of Economics, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University. He is a City Councillor representing Ward 7 in Windsor and works on the Planning & Economic Development Standing Committee, Windsor Public Library, Tourism Windsor Essex & Pelee Island, and the Essex Regional Conservation Authority among others.