Budding scientists at Solvang Elementary School demonstrated what they’ve learned in the year’s first presentations of learning in the sciences.

All fourth- and fifth-graders at the school are enrolled in the All are Scholars Academy, where subjects including the arts are integrated, and the academy’s science fair was the first of several planned for the year in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, referred to as STEM.

Throughout the year, the presentations will showcase students’ work and experiments that can include app coding, robotics, simple machinery and investigations into communicable diseases, a school spokeswoman said.

On Nov. 15, students presented their work on diseases to a public audience and had to defend what they had done to visitors at the event held in the school gymnasium.

“The students’ presentations give them an opportunity to do what scientists do outside of school,” fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Pedersen said.

Community members, parents, and students from other grades asked the presenters questions and then gave feedback on their work.

Solvang School District partnered with the nationally recognized Project Lead the Way to implement a STEM program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school’s teachers have been trained at major universities — most recently Cal Poly, Pomona — or by their colleagues to implement Project Lead the Way modules and courses, the spokeswoman said.

Solvang School and its teachers have created course pathways in computer science, engineering and biomedical science to engage students in hands-on activities, projects and problems.

“We're the only district in the county that has rolled out (Project Lead the Way) to the extent to which we have done so: K-8 with multiple modules and courses,” said Solvang School District Superintendent Steve Seaford.

Students are asked to solve real-world challenges “to empower how they view their world through STEM disciplines.”

“While our focus is on K-8, we hope our students will continue to be interested in the STEM courses offered at our high school,” Principal Pam Rennick said. “I’m sure many of our students will go on to thrive in STEM careers.”

In the science fair, students demonstrated how they are not only readying themselves for the digital age but also are learning social skills to be productive citizens.

Fifth-grader Ryder McClurg noted how “fun it was to interact with an audience and share what I learned.”

The All are Scholars Academy is part of the regular school day for every fourth- and fifth grade student, and along with meeting the California Core Standards, many project-based learning activities have been created through the academy, Rennick said.

Scholars regularly create digital presentations, apps, websites and portfolios as each of them has one-on-one access to technology in the classroom, she said.

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All are Scholars Academy also includes classes in art, drama, band music and music appreciation.

Each scholar is taught to play an instrument of his or her choice, including the drums, saxophone, violin, trumpet, flute and ukulele, among others.

At the end of each class rotation, scholars premiere their new skills at an arts exhibition.

On Fridays, scholars are involved in Academy Electives or work on their Passion Projects during Genius Hour.

Inspired by Google, Genius Hour allows students to discover, research and focus on their own passion, Rennick said.

Academy Electives are either teacher-led or student-led. Teacher-led electives include cooking, sewing, art, coding, debate, performance art and Japanese culture and language.

Student-led electives have ranged from crafts, art and dance to relaxation techniques, study skills and sports training.

“We have more to do to prepare our students for an ever-changing future,” Seaford said. “We’re excited about transitioning to solar power here soon, but in a few years, we might be able to run our school on a battery.

“Our drop-off zones will soon need to adjust to driverless cars,” he added. “Coding in kindergarten will be a part of the core curriculum.”

This report was compiled by News Editor Mike Hodgson. He can be reached at mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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