#RethinkSchool: Practicing STEM Education in Idaho

As the school year begins around the country, it is important to rethink the innovative ways we can best educate every student. Many schools in the United States are transforming their curriculum, classrooms and teaching methods to better prepare students for the modern workforce. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, one of our nation’s schools that is improving our K-12 education system.

The Academy, located in Rathdrum, Idaho, is a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focused charter school serving K-12 students. It goes further than simply focusing on STEM education…they practice it every day. Their school day is split between core curriculum and “projects curriculum.”

Students at North Idaho STEM Charter Academy demonstrate their project for Jim Blew.

Their “projects curriculum” provides hands on experiences to every student, with the goal of providing real world experiences solving STEM related issues. When they say every student, they mean every student. Kindergarten students participate in this curriculum while first grade students are incorporating computer programming into their projects. It is truly incredible what these young students are able to accomplish.

These projects are not only guided by the high quality teachers at the Academy, but by astronauts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and by programs designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Through partnerships with leaders in the STEM field, they are able to offer rigorous and real life projects to their students. One particular partnership had students write code that controlled spheres in the International Space Station. They are not simply learning about space, computer programming and the physics of thrust but are applying them in real ways by coding the spheres to accomplish tasks in the International Space Station.

Perhaps the most impressive function of this curriculum is what it teaches outside of the STEM fields. While students learn about STEM through these projects, they also learn about problem solving, creative thinking and teamwork.

STEM has resurfaced as a national priority in American education, with the goal of preparing students for jobs in the 21st Century. After seeing North Idaho STEM Academy and their “projects curriculum,” I can say they are succeeding in preparing students for jobs that have not been created yet and may not be created until the 22nd century.


Jim Blew is Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.