STEM³ Academy teachers use a student-centered approach, which they say leads to a moreactive form of learning.
Crasnow said the traditional role of the teacher “bombarding” students with facts leads to more passive learning, which is less than ideal for students with learning challenges.
Lecturing is minimized, classes are small — with a maximum of 14 students — and assignments are geared toward real-world problem solving.
There are no individual desks at the STEM³ Academy to encourage children to work together.
Crasnow said students with learning and social disabilities tend to isolate themselves.
The academy has students take part in innovation labs, which has a computer numerical control machine, 3D printer and computer-aided design machines. STEM³ Academy also has a robotics team that competes internationally.
“I want students to be doing and making,” Crasnow said. “Information is a commodity today. Facts aren’t important anymore; it’s what you do with the facts. These students need to be able to manipulate and analyze the data.”
STEM³ Academy was founded in August 2015 in Valley Glen. A Culver City campus opened the following year. The academy is run by the Help Group, a nonprofit that serves special needs children.
The Irvine campus is still in its infancy, with only three students, but the goal is to serve 120 to 150.
Having a campus in Irvine amid a burgeoning tech industry is strategic. “You’ve got this huge presence in Orange County with biotech and gaming companies,” Crasnow said.
Crasnow facilitates partnerships with Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, SpaceX and other companies.
The academy brings in speakers to connect with students, and it holds an innovation fair with major tech companies.
Crasnow said these partnerships are useful in helping students find their career paths. However, students may choose to depart from the STEM path, and STEM³ Academy is supportive of them as well.
“We have kids who are great artists and wordsmiths, in addition to those who are gifted in math and science,” Crasnow said. “I view my job as how can I support them in their passions.