When we were kids, science classes were lecture-based; the monotony of memorizing the periodic table of elements was occasionally interrupted by frog dissections. Today’s inspired K-12 curriculum, by contrast, transforms science into a riveting, hands-on subject that encourages advanced thinking by linking up with broader social issues.
Cherry Creek Schools: Through its Office of STEM and Innovation, the Cherry Creek School District delivers cutting-edge education to students, with an emphasis on science tutelage. Several schools partner with NASA, for example, and Eaglecrest High School students were selected to fly an experiment to the International Space Station. After winning the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, pupils from Horizon Middle School presented their prosthetic leg invention to President Obama. During a special weather unit, the district’s elementary students perform near space balloon launches.
“We want kids to realize that they can change the world with the ideas they conjure in their minds. STEM education, really, is about developing the skill sets to be able to make a contribution.”— Dr. Richard Charles, Director of STEM and Innovation for Cherry Creek Schools
DSST Public Schools: Serving approximately 25 percent of Denver Public School’s 6-12 grade population, capturing 10,500 children across 11 campuses, Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) Public Schools prepare students for careers in science with engaging, college-caliber courses. DSST is widely considered one of the leading open enrollment STEM schools in the nation. Many DSST science classes are taught by teachers who previously worked in scientific fields, and all courses include a stimulating and energetic combination of labs, experiments, data collection, and data analysis.
“Great science education keeps building a student’s wonder. When we show them how much is yet to be discovered, we also reveal their own ability to affect change in the future. We need that change.”— Lewis McAll, AP Biology Teacher at DSST: Stapleton High School
Mad Science of Colorado offers hands-on enrichment programming and summer camps anchored by demonstrations and experiments themed around topics such as electricity, rocketry—even toys. The University of Colorado Boulder hosts school day-off workshops, summer camps and after-school classes focused on science. DSST Public Schools also has a robust enrichment program.
From health and geology to earth and planetary sciences, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is jam-packed with educational offerings. Pop-up science experiments are done daily, and younger children learn through play in the hands-on Discovery Zone. Explore science in nature at the Denver Botanic Gardens; come dusk, visit Chamberlain Observatory, the astronomical center housing a 20-inch refracting telescope, welcoming guests on open house nights and by reservation.
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The Totally Irresponsible Science Kits
Institutions are trading textbooks for tablets, and they”re experiencing, firsthand, the benefits of pedagogy rooted in technology as they engage digital natives with advanced instruction. Technology gives way to hands-on, interactive lessons spanning every subject; high-tech educations prepare students for careers of the future, while challenging them to think outside of the box.
Thomas Jefferson High School: Through its Center for Communication Technology Magnet, Thomas Jefferson offers industry-standard training to select students in web applications, software engineering, 3D digital design, robotics and broadcast/broadband journalism. Those admitted into TJ’s free CCTM program receive in-depth, integrated training while experimenting with state-of-the-art software and equipment.
“Our students have the distinct advantage of learning to solve problems in technology, mathematics, and engineering through hands-on experience that directly prepares them for blossoming careers in the industry. Plus, the classes are a lot of fun!”— Matt Spampinato, Director of CCTM.
DSST Public Schools: Spanning 11 campuses, all of DSST’s 10,500 middle and high school students participate in a one-to-one laptop program to ensure technology is embedded into every aspect of the school day. Students engage with simulations in class, use technology to organize and analyze data, and have access to video examples and software when they need help accessing materials. DSST: Byers High School and DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School, in particular, have been recognized for their strong computer science programs.
“What I find to be truly powerful with technology in the classroom is that it teaches students to be creators, not just consumers, of technology. For our students, technology is a tool to solve problems in the world and share their voices.”— Jacqualyn Blizzard, Computer Science Teacher at DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School
Silicon STEM Academy is Denver’s one-stop-shop for after-school tech training. Through its six-week sessions, the organization’s top-notch staff delivers interactive lessons in computer programming, 3D game design, digital media, and robotics. The site does school-day-off programming. Colorado School of Mines” week-long Discover STEM summer camp is an opportunity for middle schoolers, grades 6-8, to learn the ins and outs of technology, while diving into other STEM topics.
Denver Public Library’s all-ages ideaLAB is a premiere digital media lab and makerspace, featuring a variety of hardware and software designed to foster creativity. DPL branches host other technology workshops, too, including Girls Who Code meetups, open labs for teens and video editing classes. Makerspaces and hackerspaces such as TinkerMill and Denhac are where members of all ages gather and work on tech projects amongst an array of resources: 3D printers, video/audio equipment, robotics labs, and more. Don’t miss the annual Denver Mini Maker Faire, a family-friendly showcase of invention and creativity.
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Children are natural engineers. They love to build, and take things apart. Beyond developing a child’s problem-solving skills, engineering projects often require collaboration, setting students up for future career success. Most important, perhaps, engineering instruction gives way to classroom equity, as students learn it’s okay to fail, and that there’s rarely a single “right” answer.
STEM Launch K-8: At this Adams County 12 public school, all children learn engineering in the classroom via collaboration with Kids2Glow. An engineering elective is delivered to all students, and STEM Launch’s impressive engineering lab boasts 3D printers, looms, soldering equipment, Titan cutters, and more. The school library houses a maker space for tinkering; after school, students can participate in a robotics club presented in partnership with Ball Aerospace & Technologies.
“Engineering curriculum helps our students become creative, innovative problem solvers. They learn that risk-taking and failure are meaningful as they take risks, fail, and try again.”— Jeanette Ryan,
STEM Coordinator at STEM Launch.
Colorado STEM Academy: Engineering starts in kindergarten at Colorado STEM Academy. Teaching young students the principles of engineering design ensures middle schoolers are ready to create their own advanced projects—like the underwater robots students experimented with through a partnership between Colorado STEM Academy and the University of Colorado Boulder. Students have raced CO2 cars and participated in rocket launch competitions, among other activities.
“With engineering, the biggest focus is on the idea of revision. By creating, testing, and designing projects, our students learn to revise their thinking, and that’s a great way to teach resilience and grit.” — Brenda Martin, Principal at Colorado STEM Academy.
Silicon STEM Academy delivers interactive lessons in robotics, and hosts a popular summer camp, too. Institutes for higher education serve up excellent camps for high school students; try Colorado School of Mines” Engineering Design Camps, or the University of Denver’s Engineering Summer Camp. Big ideas come to life at Alexa Café, a national brand endorsed by the Society of Women Engineers, offering day and overnight camps for girls ages 10 to 15. Between afterschool courses, fall break classes and a weekend MinecraftEdu Club, Engineering for Kids Denver is another standout destination for kids who build.
Explore engineering concepts at the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, a space-based learning environment for guests of all ages. CLCC features a Mission Control Center modeled after the one at NASA’s Johnson Space Center; visitors can fly simulated space missions and watch experiments. Organizations like Play-Well TEKnologies and Bricks 4 Kids deliver robotic birthday parties. Budding engineers searching for inspiration will adore the NoCo Mini Maker Faire and Denver Mini Maker Faire. At the annual DaVinci Inventor Showcase—held during the NoCo Mini Maker Faire—guests have a rare opportunity to meet inventors.
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If art and STEM programming seem like unlikely cohorts, consider, then, the underlying similarities between these fields. Like scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, artists are called to explore the world with curiosity and ingenuity as they invent their masterpieces—just look at Leonardo da Vinci. Raising a STEM-loving kiddo? Art might compliment his or her innate interests and skills.
Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy: This arts integrated public school—the only one in Denver where students receive a K-12 arts education—delivers a challenging college preparatory curriculum while preparing students for careers in creative fields. Beginning in kindergarten, KCAA students participate in dance, music, theater, and visual arts programming; in their secondary years, they”ll choose a discipline to pursue in depth. Students perform in citywide arts events and performances; KCAA also hosts public First Friday celebrations.
“Art education is essential for the development of the whole child. It insists that we learn to make meaning of our lives, and it teaches students to examine, reflect on and imagine their lived experiences in the world.” — Abigail Harkey, Kunsmiller K-12 Dean of Art
Slavens K-8 School: With help from Creative Learning Systems, Slavens” DPS middle school students have access to an elective STEAM class that bridges the gap between STEM and art, encouraging adolescents to explore everything from digital storytelling and 3D design to animation. The program is so impressive that observers have come from as far as China to see it in action.
“STEAM content at Slavens promotes transferable, real-world skills, as students collaboratively combine art concepts with technological techniques to create narratives — a practice that is oft used in the postmodern contemporary art world.” — Timothea Biermann, Visual Arts Teacher at Slavens
Colorado STEM Academy hosts events such as STEM Insp?r?re, an evening of art, engineering, literacy, technology and expression. Art Students League of Denver—featuring a special teen studio—and the Denver Art Museum run after-school classes and camps, offering interactive lessons that teach foundational aspects of art theory and art history. Kids can dive into art headfirst at the Art Garage, a neighborhood gem boasting an impressive lineup of kid-centered courses.
At the Denver Art Museum, exhibits are infused with gallery games and creative corners for youngsters. The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus hosts artists-in-residence, and visitors are invited to meet artists and experiment in the Art Studio. Looking for inspiration? Head to the Art District on Santa Fe on First Fridays; similar to the popular Cherry Creek Arts Festival, artists are usually available to discuss their work. Tweens and teens: Tinker away at creative hotspots like Upstairs Circus.
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Basic art supplies: watercolors, pencils, crayons and paper
Unconventional supplies: egg and milk cartons, twigs or unused hardware in the garage
Math follows children throughout their school years. From learning to count to calculating the area of an Isosceles triangle, success at each level is integral to advancing in many fields of study. But it’s not just about finding the correct answer; it’s also about persevering when the solution seems elusive. It is a foundation on which science, engineering, technology, and sometimes even art rely.
Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy: At Denver’s first teacher-led school, K-5 students are offered intense lessons in math and science as they explore content in these “Passion Areas” over recurring six-week sessions. Teachers in all subjects take on a role in intervention, helping students traverse math levels. Recently, the school received funding to expand its after-school math tutoring.
“Beyond the numbers, mathematics helps children develop grit within themselves. As they wrestle with math problems, they”re able to build the capacity to fail and persevere.” — Ammon Lucero, Dean of Culture at Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy
Math competitions and camps take learning to the next level. In the summer of 2017, Wings over the Rockies introduces MARSMath 1: Algebra Expo and MARSMath 2: Calc Expedition for junior mathematicians who want to use their skills to help guide the Veo Rover on its expedition to Mars. Camps through Pi Q Math offer a playful environment to develop math skills and Count Me In camps are specifically for girls to explore math. The Denver Math Club, run by high school students, prepares middle school students for national math competitions.
Math surrounds us everyday, when we buy something, bake something or create something. Look for unconventional ways to reinforce math skills through cooking classes like those offered through Sticky Fingers Cooking or Uncorked Kitchen, and banking opportunities at Young Americans Center for Financial Education. Or try more traditional spots like Denver Museum of Nature & Science and Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus.