The Apollo Project Puts STEAM Into Orem Schools

The principals of Orem’s elementary schools have created the Apollo project to encourage 21st-century instruction in schools

One of the greatest innovations of the 20th century was the development of the technology that enabled man to land on the moon. When President John F. Kennedy called for the moon to be America’s goal, much of the technology needed was not yet invented. The Apollo missions, and all the work that lead up to them, became several McKay School alumni’s inspiration for beginning the Apollo Project in the Orem Cluster.

With the changing demands in the job market, the principals of the Orem cluster elementary schools, all of whom are graduates of the McKay School of Education’s EdLF master’s program, have created their own professional learning community to create solutions to prepare students for the 21st century.

Out of this professional learning community born the Apollo Project. The Apollo Project worked with BYU professors, as well as leaders in large local companies such as Vivint, to find out what their students needed in order to prepare to enter the workforce.

This summer the principals heading this project, as well as BYU engineering professor Steve Shumway, offered three one-week-long training seminars to offer guidance to teachers on how to integrate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) and 21st-century teaching principles into their classrooms.

Adorned in Apollo Project lab coats that they could take back to their classrooms in the fall, the teachers of Orem elementary schools met in the gymnasium of Foothill Elementary to be trained.

At the start of the second seminar with third-fourth-grade teachers, Zach Eager, principal of Hillcrest Elementary School, explained the reasons behind the creation of the Apollo Project. He referenced the thought that is frequently bounced around in education—“We are preparing students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet.”

Eager explained that although 20th-century instruction worked well in its time, it wouldn’t work for 21st-century students, and it wouldn’t prepare them for the careers ahead.

Eager illustrated this idea by offering an example of a Boeing 747 airplane. While the 747 is an amazing vehicle that is reliable and efficient for travelling across the world, it is incapable of taking passengers to the moon. To go to the moon, you need a rocket.

“We are going to our own educational moon,” Eager said.

Eager went over the three things that defined 21st-century instruction. In addition to an emphasis on knowledge, 21st-century students also needed to learn skills, such as critical thinking and collaboration, and dispositions, such as leadership and empathy.

“If any one of these things is missing, we aren’t preparing the whole child,” Eager said.

After Eager spoke, Joe Backman, principal of Foothill Elementary, took the floor. Backman explained how Shumway’s introducing the engineering design process had a profound impact on the students over the last few years.

According to Backman, students have responded the best to being given chances to create and to find solutions to real-world problems.

“When they can create something to solve a problem, that’s when they realize, ‘I need this. I want to learn this,’” Backman said.

Shumway introduced several projects that incorporated the engineering design process. One project students responded well to was an activity in which they were asked to create a water filtration system for a fictional little girl in India and her family to have clean water. This allowed students to create something, find a solution to a real problem, and get thinking about the world and the needs people have.

Recognizing that many teachers would view this training as another thing they were expected to add to their never-ending to-do list, Backman explained that this initiative was meant to evolve and improve their teaching, not add to it.

“We’re not offering something more to put on your plate—we’re offering a new plate,” said Backman.

Backman held up a paper plate and compared it to current instruction. He then held up a thick ceramic plate and compared it to the engineering design process and STEAM initiatives the Apollo Project was providing for the teachers. This demonstrated his conviction that dedicated 21st-century instruction would create a stronger foundation for students and teachers.

Orem cluster elementary schools include Cascade Elementary, Foothill Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, Orchard Elementary, Scera Park Elementary, and Sharon Elementary.

Writer: Kirsten Clancy

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922