FORT MILL --
Julie Maynard loves engineering and technology so much, just talking about them gives her goose bumps.
Discussing science, math and teaching have the same effect – which makes her the perfect fit to integrate STEM techniques at Banks Trail Middle School. Her classroom looks like a neat mash-up of a media design studio, a research and development lab, and a woodshop. There might not be a single desk in the room, but work benches and countertops are neatly spaced out to facilitate the collaborative learning Maynard orchestrates.
If she’s extra proud of the layout, Maynard, who came to Banks Trail from the Anderson School District when the school opened last year, has a right to be – she played a major role in creating it.
“I love what I do,” says Maynard, who has 20 years of teaching experience and is a Master Teacher in Project Lead The Way, a project-based curriculum.
This past summer in Washington, D.C., she was one of 50 educators from across the country selected to spend a week at the Siemens STEM Institute learning how to integrate STEM into the classroom. Maynard says students’ interests are captured not just by the practical uses of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – but by the tools they use, including advanced modeling software and devices that test designs for performance and identify flaws.
It was at a Master Teacher training session that Maynard heard about an opening in Fort Mill. That turned out to be a chance to join the new staff being assembled for Banks Trail, which initially had only sixth and seventh grades when it opened in 2011. It added eighth grade this year.
“I first visited here and was amazed at seeing a new school building and the potential for growth – to build a program from the ground up and (to) be able to be in on the decision making,” she says. “That and (Principal Martin) Dr. Connor – we share a common philosophy; we believe that all students can learn provided they have the right learning environment and the right opportunity.”
The level of input Maynard had in creating her work environment is something she still appreciates.
“This is very unique,” she says. “Being able to have work benches in a classroom is very unique, and it’s a powerful way to engage project-based learning and collaborative groups.”
If that’s true, then the sizable woodshop hidden behind a door in the room has to be pretty special, too. An avid woodworker – and photographer and hiker – Maynard won’t have any prefabricated models in her classroom. If they need a wooden prototype or a component, they create it. She’s not shy about her woodworking skills and will gladly show off images of the loft she built in her native Ohio.
On one wall of her classroom is a graphic recap of her time at the Siemens STEM Institute. It’s easy to see the impression it had on her because she relives moments while pointing out some of the guest speakers like Dr. Roosevelt Johnson, deputy associate administrator for education at NASA, and Reed Timmer, Discovery Education’s chief meteorologist.
“This was an amazing experience for me,” Maynard says.
In today’s public school, the bottom line, Maynard and Connor say, is that STEM is not just for future rocket scientists or software rock stars.
“When we talk about flying cars or a prosthetic device that was created by an engineer and changed someone’s life, that started with STEM – but it’s limitless. STEM will be a part of most careers,” Maynard said.
“It’s in everything we do.”
“STEM is not a new initiative in education, but it’s certainly one we are doing to make sure students can apply those concepts in the classroom and in life. And Miss Maynard is certainly a leader in this field, not just in this state, but nationally,” he said.
“She’s able to tie the course concepts of (STEM) and even language skills into her class. It’s cutting-edge skills, and she’s doing it every day.”
Asked for some examples of project-based learning, Maynard’s eyes get big.
“I can tell you,” she says in tone laced equally with pride and mischief, “but I can actually show you.”
With that, she goes into hummingbird mode, zooming from station to station, hovering just long enough to demonstrate: a student’s digital version – down to the smallest detail, as the lesson required – of his dad’s truck; projects that tell the stories behind a long list of products, from the toilet to cell phones; the worthiness of an aerospace design.
“Our students are going to redesign it, make it better,” Maynard says.
“That’s part of the whole initiative of Project Lead The Way. They are going to use NASA’s website and learn about the design of wings, and they’ll be testing their designs online. And we have a wing tester here,” she explains while demonstrating. “We put a wing on here and balance it and put the air on and see if the wing has good lift. They’re very excited. They want to work for NASA. They want to be engineers.”
Banks Trail is only two years old, but already the school is one of only two identified as an Exemplary Program for Project Lead The Way. Now in the works is a school-wide “academic guild” that goes by the acronym STARS – Students, Teachers, Administrators Representing STEM.
“I really love what I do,” Maynard says again, laughing.
“Did I say that already?”