MOUNDS VIEW, Minn. -- "This is the kind of thing I've always wanted to do," said art teacher Jim Bias.
Some of his students at Edgewood Middle School in Mounds View are wielding paint brushes. They've also gotten pretty good with a different kind of brush, having spent hours pulling buckthorn out of a densely wooded area behind the school.
"We're developing a school forest," explained Bias.
This is one of 25 electives offered this year for Edgewood's new STEAM curriculum.
"STEAM is the integration of the five disciplines," said principal Penny Howard. "Science, technology engineering, arts and mathematics."
The program was a year and a half in the planning, with the roll out taking place for the 2012-2013 school year.
Two other middle schools in the district have also started STEAM programs.
For 90 minutes each week, Edgewood students have been working in their STEAM class, developing a central question or theme for the class, which lead them to a project they developed throughout the year.
In addition to pushing students to explore more real world solutions and connections, it also gave teachers a chance to broaden their horizons.
"Mines is writing a children's book," said math teacher Kristin Stanoch. "We kind of focused it off 'The Lorax,' and we made connections with the school forest.'
Edgewood had help from many community partners, including the DNR, which helped the school understand its forest and how best to develop it into a natural classroom.
Seventh grader Diego Camacho has already been able to use it.
"In 7th grade we have biology, and right now in the spring we've been going out there a lot, and that would be cool to go out there and kind of look at the animals in the forest."
"I've always been interested in the environmental sciences," said 7th grader Jada Pichotta, who also likes the fact her STEAM classes include students from every grade at the middle school.
"I get to meet more people," she said.
In addition to the class developing the school forest, another class is working on an organic garden they hope will one day provide food for the school cafeteria.
"Tomatoes, corn, peppers, stuff like that that's easily harvested," explained 8th grader Emma Odette, who transferred into the school specifically for its STEAM program.
Another classroom decided to student how to reduce their carbon footprint.
"They all designed their own product, piece of technology to address what they thought was the issue with the planet right now," said teacher Nathan Johnson, who teaches science.
Among the projects his students created: an amphibious bicycle, a solar-powered ice house and a lawnmower powered by bicycle.
One class delves into forensics. Others work with art and music.
"We were very deliberate in making sure that we included the arts because we wanted to add the element of creative expression for students, and more opportunities for students to work together and problems solve as student teams," said Howard, who led her staff in making the changes.
"One of our goals is actually making sure kids are making real world decisions so that does come through in their projects," Bias said.
Many of those projects will come to fruition next year, or even later. Students know they are building something at Edgewood. For some, that's all the more reason to look forward to next fall, when school is back in session.
"We're gonna start building everything, and start putting everything in action," said Pichotta, who will enter 8th grade in the fall. "It's just gonna make a huge difference."
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)