Barnard FUSE and STEM Programs Empower, Engage Student Learning

By Tina Jenkins Bell, BAPA School Liaison

“I can feel the hum of learning every time I pass by,” Kathleen Valente, principal of Alice L. Barnard Elementary School, said. Valente was describing the didactically, positive happenings in Barnard’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) Design class as a result of FUSE, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) based program.

Valente credits MYP Design class instructor Patricia Flannigan with FUSE’s acquisition. FUSE, a student-centered program,  empowers students to discover success in learning and creating in ways they may not have experienced in core instruction.

Last spring, Flannigan wrote a proposal to the Dart Foundation to help the school purchase the platform, along with two 3-D printers. Both Valente and Flannigan are more than pleased with the results.

“FUSE allows students to pursue their interests. It engages them in ways they haven’t been,” Flannigan said. The online platform offers numerous design challenges in the areas of music, design, fashion, engineering, and technology. “I’ve had students create LED lights, Mario-like games, t-shirts with LED lights, ring tones for their cell phones, and key chains. They also have the potential to create online “mini-me” {avatars} and design miniature homes and even communities.”

According to Valente and Flannigan, the program is so engaging that students do what’s necessary to complete their projects without prodding. This includes collaborating with other students, returning to the design class on their own time, and persisting with the project to completion, despite the challenges.

“Sometimes in other classes they may give up with paper and pencil exercises. But in the Design class, they may get frustrated, but they stay with these projects until they figure them out,” Valente said, adding the students become “global thinkers.”

Flannagan mentioned a student who struggled in his core classes but became an expert in 3-D printing. With the tables turned, suddenly, other students were depending on him for his knowledge and expertise.

“Diverse learners can shine in and beyond my design class, too, because they become experts in certain designs, techniques, or processes, like 3-D printing. Now, all of a sudden, students are turning to him for help or guidance. That does something for a kid’s morale,” Flannagan said.

As much as the program has been a morale booster, it has also tethered connections between MYP Design projects and core learning.  Flannagan was able to help another student learn how to solve algebraic equations by challenging him to write an expression to figure out how he could make a profit from the sales of the promotional key rings he had made in design class to advertise his YouTube channel.

“[FUSE] is a challenge for me because I can no longer be the source for their answers. They become the experts, figuring things out. It’s a productive struggle with a worthy outcome,” Flannigan said.

Both the International Baccalaureate MYP and FUSE share the common goal of helping students make practical connections between core skills and the real world.

Barnard, 10354 S. Charles St., has utilized FUSE with its middle school students (grades 5-8) since the spring of 2019. According to Flannigan, the school plans to continue FUSE, considering its success and popularity among students, but they may need to locate a new funding partner because their Dart Foundation grant is not renewable. For more information or to recommend funding sources, contact Kathleen Valente, 773-535-2625.

Do you have a Beverly/Morgan Park school story to spotlight? Contact Tina Jenkins Bell,


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