Curriculum Information

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Lauren Gemmill

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction

(518) 377-4666 x50703 

STEAM graphic

STEAM Initiative:
Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math at Niskayuna

Niskayuna school leaders and teachers have been working on a growing number of initiatives to provide students opportunities for study, hands-on experiences, and exposure in the rapidly growing "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Given the creative and visual nature of these fields, the district uses the acronym STEAM, with an "A" for Art.

Courses and Instruction
  • New and re-imagined courses at Niskayuna High School: Robotics and Professional & Technical Writing will be new next year. At the high school, students have the opportunity to take the full Project Lead The Way (PLTW) sequence, including Intro to Engineering, Electronics, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing. Other courses include Nanoscale Science & Engineering, 3D Computer Modeling, and Senior Research and Development - which requires students use the engineering design process to develop a new solution to a societal challenge.
  • In June of 2012, the new Outdoor Science Research Area at Niskayuna High School opened, featuring elements for almost every science discipline taught at the high school, including stream and rock bed studies, horticulture, sustainability, weather station, solar arc. It was funded by a series of grants.
  • The partnership with Schenectady County Community College is expected to result in college credit options for students who complete AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, Nanoscale Science & Engineering Courses, and Professional & Technical Writing.
  • The Niskayuna High School Robotics class will participate in the VEX Robotics competition at RPI in 2013-14.
  • The 7th and 8th grade curriculum includes a unit on robotics, giving students experience with the basic elements of robotics, including design, sensors and circuits.
  • Some middle school classes are piloting a "Community of the Future" design challenge, a project that has included guidance from a local architect who specializes in sustainable design. Students will receive feedback from judges who are experts in the fields of architecture, energy, and engineering.
  • Students in middle school and high school are entering regional and national contests, such as "The Spirit of Innovation Challenge" and the New York State Invention Convention, held locally at Schenectady's miSci.
  • The high school's TV Studio Production and Broadcast class is bringing live newscasts to the entire school two to three days per week in partnership with the Broadcast Club.
Professional Development for Teachers
  • Niskayuna High School teachers have attended training in advanced biotech labs, and implemented them in their classrooms.
  • Niskayuna High School science, technology, and pre-engineering teachers attended Northeast Advanced Technological Education Center (NEATEC) nanotechnology conferences in 2012 and 2013. The partnership with NEATEC also included an in-district professional development session for math, science, pre-engineering, technology teachers and all other interested staff members in the fall of 2012.
  • Middle school science teachers attended the RPI NanoScience Institute in the summer of 2011.
  • Middle and high school technology/pre-engineering teachers will attend Project Lead The Way (PLTW) robotics and programming training using ROBOTC software in the Spring and Summer of 2013.
  • In 2013, high school pre-engineering teachers attended 3D architecture modeling software training using Revit software.

Art at Niskayuna connects to and enhances the STEM/STEAM movement in a number of important ways:

  • Nisky Art classes approach teaching and learning from a "Design Thinking" philosophy. As both a style and System of thinking, design thinking is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context. While design thinking has become part of the popular lexicon in contemporary design and engineering practice, as well as business and management, its broader use in describing a particular style of creative thinking-in-action is having an increasing influence on twenty-first century education across disciplines.
  • Examples of this include; performance-based, open-ended problems that are posed to both individuals and collaborative teams in art classes k-12.
  • Teachers and students define the problems, conduct research, create ideas, develop prototypes, choose and implement final solutions, and finally learn from and reflect on the process.
  • Students in art classes are asked to research and show an understanding of mathematics and scientific principles in chemistry, physics, biology and the earth sciences while using this knowledge to create solutions to artistic problems. The use of technology is integrated into all of our art classes. Students solve problems using a variety of twenty-first century technologies such as digital photography and video and associated software and networks. For example, students in advanced art classes are creating personal electronic portfolios of their own work along with their written reflections; digitally creating, editing, and designing their work into a variety of accessible media formats such as wiki sites, websites, PDFs, etc.

"Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And we'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math -- the skills today's employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future."

President Barack Obama,
State of the Union Address, Feb. 2013

Field Experience -
Site Visits and Special Guests
  • The partnership with RPI has included Engineering Ambassador visits to Niskayuna High School Physics and Chemistry classes.
  • Middle and high school students have been visiting the GE Global Research Center, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Global Foundries to meet with experts in the field and conduct hands-on labs.
  • In March 2013, miSci educators visited every sixth grade science class in Niskayuna for challenging, hands-on engineering projects that students completed in teams.
  • In March 2013, Dr. Randii Wessen, an American Astronautics systems engineer talked to Niskayuna High School Earth Science students and Robotics Club members about his experiences in deep space exploration with NASA. The special visit was made possible by GE Global Research.
Extracurricular Opportunities and Summer Adventures
  • The Engineering Institute for Young Women, sponsored by GE Global Research, RPI, the National Science Foundation and others, will be held for a second time in the summer of 2013. By the end of the 2013 camp, 175 young women will have had the opportunity to work, learn and be inspired alongside leading scientists and engineers.
  • High School Robotics Club: In its first year, the high school Robotics Club hit the ground running with 30 members. The club is growing, and will have at least 48 members in the 2013-14 season. Students work in teams to compete in the regional First Tech Challenge Robotics Competition, which was held at Pace University in late January 2013. Students also worked with mentors from Bechtel/KAPL, GE Global Research, and RPI, who provided support, technical assistance, and a window into the real-life applications of the club's work.
  • Camp Invention: This summer opportunity for elementary students interested in innovating, working in teams, and gaining knowledge about the engineering process will be offered for the first time in 2013.
  • Niskayuna Aquaponics: In 2013, Niskayuna High School students entered an aquaponics competition for the first time – and reached the finals of a national competition. Aquaponics is a relatively new farming technology of growing fish, plants and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship in a soil-free, water recirculating environment. Students incorporated biology, engineering, math, programming, robotics and even music into the project.
  • In 2013, middle school students participated in NanoCareer Days at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
  • The Engineering is Elementary program has been piloted with the Explorers Program. Elementary Explorers students also had the opportunity to visit the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
  • Middle School Robotics Clubs: Van Antwerp has started a robotics club which will compete in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition which is announced each September. The team of students has already begun to meet as a group to create some robots together and get to know each other. Also, Iroquois Math and Technology teachers will be starting a robotics club in the Fall of 2013 with support that they have received from RPI - which included LEGO NXT robot kits.
  • In 2013, Niskayuna students again won the Sience College Computer Science programming contest. Math teacher Joseph Baciewicz has been involved in each of the contest's 26 years.