Strong STEM – and STEAM – focus in Sumner County


As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post, the commissioner recaps her recent stop in Sumner County schools on the Classroom Chronicles tour. 

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

In the last days of the school year, I had the opportunity to visit two schools in Sumner County Schools, where I saw teachers and students steadfast in their commitment to well-rounded education until the final bell.

Older students work with younger ones to build and test a ramp.

Even from the earliest grades, students at Union Elementary are diving into STEM learning. I saw first graders working with a black light to see things they could only view in the dark and then journaling about what they observed – showing me that first graders can be scientists, too. My tour guides showed how they are learning to code in computer class, and they pointed out outdoor learning spaces that are available for educators and students to explore. In another class, the older students worked with younger peers to engineer a ramp that would make a ball roll the farthest.

In the hallways, students mapped out early explorers’ travels across America by rolling Sphero balls across the tiled floor to different “states” – simultaneously learning about the relationship between time, distance, and speed as they tried to roll the ball perfectly onto different squares of paper. I asked one student what engineers do, and he responded: “They make the world better.” That is a fantastic perspective, and one that I know is being cultivated not just in the classrooms of Union Elementary, but across the state – including at the next school I visited: Jack Anderson Elementary.

Four-time St. Jude Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon winner Scott Wietecha teaches at Jack Anderson Elementary in Sumner County.Jack Anderson builds on the STEM focus through expanding that vision and ensuring that students have access to various arts-focused programs, as well. Student artwork and exhibits lined every hallway, and even classes like PE – which is taught by four-time St. Jude Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon winner Scott Wietecha – incorporate STEM thinking into activities by having students think about movement and velocity when they are running down the court or hitting a ball over a net.

Most importantly, students were able to articulate how this education was helping them grow into lifelong learners, thinkers, and dreamers. Fourth grade students told me that part of their STEM and STEAM education was “learning how to learn” and that getting to use their creativity so often was the big game-changer at Jack Anderson. Another student told me that the school culture helped him thrive because “if we fail, we can get better because now we know what to do next time.”

Students tell Commissioner McQueen why having a foundation in STEAM helps them be well-rounded, creative thinkers.Creating a space where students can try new things and stretch to their fullest is the goal of every school, and all the ingredients of a well-rounded, dynamic learning environment are definitely in play at Jack Anderson and Union Elementary. Seeing our youngest students developing the building blocks for critical thinking and problem solving makes me even more excited to see what is ahead for their future, and I’m encouraged about the collaboration that is happening in Sumner County to make that future a reality.

Thank you to Rep. William Lamberth for joining me on these visits.