Welcome to the Cannon River STEM School, a K-8 charter school located in Faribault, Minnesota! We have been in operation since September 2009 when we opened to 138 students in grades K-6, with class sizes at 20 students per grade level. As our second section moves up the grades, we will be building to a 2 section per grade level school, with a class size of 20 students in grades K-3, 22 students in grades 4-8. This year we have added our second section of 8th grade.
The question we are bombarded with is, how is Cannon River STEM School different from our other educational options? My answer is simple: we have a three tiered focus on place-based, inquiry-based, and project-based instruction. Let’s break those points down a bit:
Place-based: That means that our students use the environment as a context for learning. They are outside for classroom instruction. They learn geography by working on surveying our campus elevations. They learn shapes by looking for them in nature and in shadows. They learn about trees by surveying trees on campus and watching them change over time. Our students are outside several times a week, often daily, as part of the curriculum.
Inquiry-based: We are a STEM school. We place focus on the integration of science, technology, engineering and math. Students in our school are encouraged (and taught) to ask good questions and to be able to investigate them to find the answers. Whether that be to design a chair that could hold Goldilocks, or to look at the flow of students through the lunchroom to determine a system that works better…we look at the world through questions and empower our students to learn how to answer them.
Project-based: Our instruction is intentionally blended. Our school day does not have the 55 minute blocks for reading, math, social studies and science. A typical project like bridge building incorporates multiple subjects (What are the societal needs for bridges? Who builds bridges? How do you design a bridge that holds the most weight? What geometric shapes have the greatest strength? How is the Hoover Dam bypass bridge being built? How would we find out information on types of bridges?) Even a simple activity of learning about birds in Kindergarten involves learning about birds shapes and functions, exploring our campus to discover where birds are, and designing a bird feeding station to attract those birds. The Kindergarten class last year presented their plan to administration with a picture of the site plan, pictures of the feeders and seed necessary, which birds’ it would attract, and completed purchase orders (written by the Kinders) for the materials needed.
Our school systems and community also look different. We use research as a basis for our decisions: recess precedes lunch because data shows students eat better if they play first; students in K-5 have very little homework because data shows that homework does not actually increase academic growth and more often detracts from the down time students need to play and formalize in their heads what happened that day; the first six weeks of school focus on community building because data shows that school connectedness is a prime determinant in academic achievement. We operate as a learning community with weekly all-school gatherings.
We know that the Faribault, Northfield, Medford, Kenyon communities have many wonderful educational opportunities and choices. As a charter school, we are charged with doing education differently than the public districts…and that means that while our breadth of opportunities may be more limited than bigger districts, our depth of focus is rich and intentional.
I welcome you to our school, or encourage you to take a tour if you are a visitor. We’d love to talk with you and see if our school fits with your priorities.
Nalani McCutcheon, Executive Director