What were the areas of strength noted in the Self Assessment? What were areas in need of improvement? What actions are being implemented to sustain the areas of strength? What plans are being made to improve the areas of need?
Just like the Engineering Design Process, reflection and redesign are critical to meeting a goal and reaching success. At Red Cedar Elementary, we know that reviewing and improving are integral to making our program work and even more so in helping students successfully learn. We evaluate every aspect of what we do regularly to ensure our methods are the not only the most practical, but the most effective. But through all of that work as teachers and staff, it is always around, about and for our STUDENTS.
ST1.1 The STEM school/program supports non-traditional student participation through outreach to groups often underrepresented in STEM program areas.
Our STEM school supports non-traditional participation in many ways. To begin with, our STEM program involves every student at our school regardless of their individual ability, race or gender. Also, our school is a school of choice and any student can apply to attend. Some of our outreach opportunities include being present in communities through our partnership with the Neighborhood Outreach Committee (NOC), an organization that supports students in low-income neighborhoods and our twice yearly choice events when parents can come and visit and find out the many reasons they should choose to attend our STEM school. The data shows that nearly half of our opt-in students are from races other than white. A third way we seek to involve all students is through our efforts to offer clubs both in the morning before school and the afternoon after dismissal to allow students of all types to be a part of that extended learning.
ST1.2 Students work independently and collaboratively in an inquiry-based learning environment that encourages finding creative solutions to authentic and complex problems.
This indicator is most certainly a strength for our STEM school. We scored highest on this indicator on our self-assessment. Our students work both independently and collaboratively throughout all parts of the school day. We value problem solving throughout everything we do from everyday routines to the most complex of problems presented as a part of a lengthy unit grounded in multiple layers of standards. So many of our units already revolve around kids solving problems and the work we’re doing right now involved embedding even more!
ST1.3 Students are empowered to personalize and self-direct their STEM learning experiences supported by STEM educators who facilitate their learning.
Our environment values inquiry and self-directed learning. Some of those opportunities are very structured and planned for and many happen organically because our school and staff live by our motto of doing “whatever it takes” to ensure students achieve. Though our PBL units, there is always voice and choice provided to students in the way that they create or solve problems. When students are empowered in this way, they are highly motivated. One of our goals at this time is to increase the amount of choice students have in our units and learning experiences.
ST1.4 Students use technology resources to conduct research, demonstrate creative and critical thinking, and communicate and work collaboratively.
Technology has always been a big part of our school. We piloted the 1:1 program for the district and celebrated when it went district wide. We were the first school to reimagine our media center and turn it into Media 2.0 by moving the books to other places in the school and making the media center a flexible maker space. We’ve transitioned over the years from a school that has technology to a school that uses it. Since we’ve had a strong PBL/STEM focus, we’ve focus on using all of this technology to research and create as a part of our everyday learning. As technology changes to rapidly, it is always a goal of ours to not only stay current and on the forefront, but a step ahead and being a leader when and where we can.
ST1.5 Students demonstrate their learning through performance-based assessments and express their conclusions through elaborate explanations of their thinking.
This is an area where we’ve done considerable work. It is difficult to transition from a traditionally minded grading system to a performance-based one when you’re tied to district mandates. We’ve done the work and are continually putting more and more authentic ways to assess student learning. One way we’ve improved most recently is by assessing students’ learning about a topic/project using Flipgrid, a video program that allows each student to speak to his/her learning in a video clip that is then submitted to the teacher.
ST1.6 The interdisciplinary problem-based curriculum includes a focus on real world applications.
Through all of our unit planning, the focus has always been on making real-world connections. We believe that when kids know WHY they are learning something, they want to learn it. Project based learning units give students a reason to learn. When kids are introduced to a project through an entry event and then guided through a project focused around a driving question, they have a reason to do the research and learn the content. Most of the units that have been planned revolve around solving a real world problem. All of the units are connected to the real world in some way whether it’s a real world problem, connection to a real world career, or tie to a real world concept.
ST1.7 STEM educators collaborate as an interdisciplinary team to plan, implement, and improve integrated STEM learning experiences.
As we’ve journeyed through embedding a culture of PBL and STEM into our school, we’ve realized how very important it is to collaborate in teams to plan, implement and improve our experiences. We’ve rewritten our master schedule to provide longer common planning times for all grade level teachers. We meet in PLCs once per week and the other four days, teams are able to meet together to plan and discuss implementation of all learning experiences. We’ve also put into place a series of four ½ day planning sessions to work on unit planning exclusively with a goal this year to put into place PBL/STEM units from start to finish during the school year. Our teachers value each of these opportunities to be able to collaboratively work on these both for initial planning as well as revising.
ST1.8 STEM learning outcomes demonstrate students’ STEM literacy necessary for the next level of STEM learning and for post-secondary and workforce readiness.
Our high-stakes test data shows that students are achieving a high levels. Even more importantly, our students are getting better as collaborators, communicators, critical thinkers, and creators as they seek to solve problems and assume the roles of engineers. Our students embody a growth mindset as they work hard and seek to improve upon their work each day and during each unit.
ST1.9 STEM teachers and leaders participate in a continuous program of STEM-specific professional learning.
We’ve built a continuous program of STEM-specific professional learning by bringing back as much learning as possible from the SC Department of Education, Discovery Education, FETC, Ron Clark, and AdvancEd to our entire staff. Two teams of teachers worked through a year long cohort of STEM learning through our state department that culminated in completely planned projects which they pitched to a panel for feedback in Columbia, SC. Another cohort of building STEM leaders participated in a cohort through Discovery Education through our district. To get another perspective on planning project based learning units, we sent two building leaders to the New Tech Conference in St. Louis over the summer. When we learned of a conference organized by AdvancEd in Tennessee, we made it a priority to send two building leaders who brought that learning back to our PLCs. We’ve also built a monthly staff meeting into our schedule for the sole purpose of highlighting STEM learning.
ST1.10 Community, post-secondary, business/industry partners and/or families actively support and are engaged with teachers and students in the STEM program.
When we began this work, we quickly realized that a key component would be bringing community members and business/industry partners in as experts. Many of our units utilize these people as entry events to get students excited about learning, research as experts in a field and as an audience to view and sometimes critique the work of students. We’ve had students pitch their business ideas to community business leaders in a shark tank style event. We’ve had student Skype with an engineer to pitch their plan for their build. We’ve had a local meteorologist speak and then return to judge weather PSAs. We’ve had a panel of leaders take questions about what it’s like to lead in whatever their field might be. We couldn’t do what we do without these folks and we’re very grateful for their involvement.
ST1.11 Students are supported in their STEM learning through adult-world connections and extended day opportunities.
We’ve changed the name of field trips to “field studies,” at least most of the time. This is because in most circumstances, our students are attending these trips mid-project in order to study their content and imagine the possibilities. Our fifth grade students go on the only overnight trip we have to Camp Bob Cooper where they learn in a hands-on environment. We showcase all of our work during our annual Maker Faire at the end of March. We also benefit greatly from a partnership with the HIlton Head Symphony Orchestra. We’re building these types of partnerships as quickly as we can imagine them. The sky’s the limit! We strive to connect as much as possible with the world outside of our walls.