Girls Quest for STEM

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There are a many gatekeepers in this world, barring women from careers, hobbies, and involvement in popular culture. And this year is, for many reasons, been called the year of the woman. So, what better time to focus on getting our girls plugged into fields of interest that have been traditionally closed off to them by these arbitrary, and mostly unwritten, rules. This is what the Quest/STEM program at Marian Middle School is all about.  Marian Middle School is an all girls school, so what better place to put this pilot program into practice.

Their stated goal.

In order to understand what they have accomplished, we need to understand what their stated goal was when conceiving the program. The goal was to get Marian girls to be workforce ready critical thinkers, creative problem solvers with the skills to be highly employable in STEM careers. But even simple goals often require multi-pronged approaches as there is no one avenue into the myriad of career possibilities in the STEM field.

What did they accomplish?

Broken down into a three-pronged approach, the educators focused on the following:

  • Learning through project- and inquiry-based learning and the Engineering Design Process
    • “Through their STEM Quest classes this year, students were given a choice in the projects they wanted to take on based on their interests and passions. Some projects that were undertaken included rebuilding two motorized scooters, creating original video games, developing animal-friendly beauty products, designing a school prayer garden, and building a virtual school tour for the school’s website, among other projects. All projects were real-world tasks requiring students to research, plan, design, build, and evaluate. They applied learning from their traditional courses to create original work. Working with peers through the design process challenged students to think creatively, to work collaboratively, and to continuously evaluate their work to improve their product. Though it can be difficult for adults and middle school students alike, through this process Marian students are building a myriad of skills that make them highly employable for internships, positions, and opportunities available to them at their age and on which they can grow in the future.”
  • Increasing interest in STEM careers
    • By using a simple survey to collect data from students regarding their top three career interests they were able to categorize these careers, identifying those with a STEM focus. Year after year, comparisons are made and trend lines are established as each class moves from fifth grade through eighth grade. Students who named a STEM related career in one of their top career choices this school year include:
      • 13/15 5th graders (87%)
      • 15/17 6th graders (88%)
      • 16/17 7th graders (94%)
      • 17/17 8th graders (100%)
        • Overall Total – 92%
      • Through their STEM classes and Marian programming, they have been exposed to professional careers they may not have previously considered. As a result, the range of occupational interest’s students are considering for their futures is as impressive as it is diverse. Careers of interest from the survey include music producer, veterinarian, architect, marine biologist, computer engineer, paramedic, farmer, pediatrician, plastic surgeon, photographer, zoologist, neurosurgeon, cardiac surgeon, entrepreneur, obstetrician/gynecologist, film editor, forensic psychologist, federal agent nuclearmaterial courier, nurse, and occupational therapist, among others!
    • Making statistically significant gains on STEM areas of standardized tests.
      • Marian students took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in September 2017 which includes Science and Math components. Seventy two percent of eighth grade students made significant gains in math and 67% made significant gains in science as compared to previous scores. The small sample size makes 1 or 2 outliers significant. All sixth and seventh graders made significant gains in math. Science averages of our student body increased in 5 of the 6 domains tested. Student averages in 4 of the 6 domains are now above the national average as compared to only 1 above the national average last year.

A couple of exciting projects.

One of the more exciting projects is the Prayer Garden.  Students performed research on prayer gardens, as well as a number of other themed types.  By assessing the needs and space available to them they were able to identify the elements they would propose.  After a presentation, complete with visual aids, to the principal they were given the go ahead to purchase supplies and begin construction.

The other project is the Animal-Friendly Beauty Products.  By researching practices that impact animals and products that already exist they planned, budgeted, purchased and actually made some products including animal-friendly nail cuticle oil.

In order to evaluate the success of the products, they created a survey that was distributed with the products to solicit feedback They subsequently revamped their products based on feedback for redistribution.

Not only that, but 19 Marian Girls competed in the Clavius Project Robotics Jamboree at St. Louis University High School in January. Out of 27 participating schools, Marian students won the first-place platinum award, and on top of that, were also awarded the Leadership with Distinction Award for their evident teamwork, persistence, and problem-solving skills. And an even more unique feather for this projects cap: An article was written on the National Nuclear Security Administration website about one of their 7th grade student’s curiosity in becoming a Nuclear Material Courier! This is a testament to the students’ increased interest in many different STEM related careers!

What are some of the challenges they faced?

As exciting and successful as this project has been – it is not without challenges. They’ve tried to be proactive about revising the programming and goals based on student interest, progress, and feedback.  One difficulty they faced was the length of time students needed to complete a project and how difficult it is to determine at the outset. They plan to figure out how to include more flexibility in scheduling. Additionally, timing is important in the optimal utilization of workshop space and sharing of available technology to meet everyone’s needs.  Ideally, they could more regularly engage community experts in STEM fields as mentors, facilitators and/or instructors for the students.  However, school hours are also work hours, which makes optimal engagement difficult.

These challenges aside, they have made great strides in accomplishing their goals and we at the McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation are excited to see how this project progresses.

Further Reading

·      Girls in STEM: Answering the Call for STEM Skills in Our Global Workforce

·      10 Ways to Prepare Our Daughters for STEM Careers | NetApp Blog

·      Preparing K-12 Students for Future STEM Careers – The Tech Edvocate

·      Starting Early: How to Address the Lack of Female Engagement in STEM at School



Tribute to Jane Abe, McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Board Member

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Jane Abe was a member of the Board of Trustees of the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation
from its inception in 2000 to her death on March 15, 2016.

During her years of service Jane brought to the Board her passion for teaching, her extensive experiences working with children in the elementary grades, and her dedication to the profession. She deliberated over every proposal we received at the Foundation with deep empathy for teachers, a sharp eye for ideas that would make a difference to students, and a deep concern for the impact grants could make for teachers and students. Her mentorship of each project made a lasting impression on classrooms and all who had the opportunity to work with her will remember her commitment, guidance and care.

We miss Jane and will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to work with her on the Board.

Future 2,000 Common Core emphasizes eBooks, improves curriculum

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logoTeachers and students need textbooks to be useful and relevant. With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013, the Science Department at Chapman High School in Chapman, Kansas, wanted to find a way to incorporate the NGSS as well as the Common Core Standards into classroom curriculum. In the process, they discovered that the textbooks they were currently using no longer met the needs of their students and classroom. In this update from Future 2,000 Common Core, you’ll hear about how educators used eBooks to meet curriculum goals for Physical Science, Biology, and Chemistry and improve understanding of standards while improving the students’ access to resources and increasing their motivation.

How does eBook creation improve curriculum?

Chapman High School science educators led by Sara Cook explained that starting with a blank canvas enabled them to “include the essential curriculum that students need to know rather than having them sifting through unnecessary material.” They planned to integrate multimedia, virtual labs, student work samples, projects, activities, and more. eBooks would allow their curriculum to come alive in ways that would engage students more than normal textbooks do. They focused on featuring student work to increase the expectation for projects over time. “They will make studying and teaching more effective,” Cook stated, “most importantly, we have the ability to revise and edit the books to best meet the needs of their students.”

According to project report, the goal was to create a book that met “the individual learning needs of their students, and better incorporates the Common Core Standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards.”

An additional goal was to produce a textbook that the students would be able to access at anytime that could be easily updated with a changing curriculum. By saving a .pdf copy of the iBook and uploading the iBook to a website, the students could have access to the book on any web-based device.


How did educators evolve their curriculum with eBooks?


iBooks Author, Apple


Participating educators started the project with a professional development day to learn how to use iBooks Author, a free software created by Apple for eBook creation on the Mac or iPad. Throughout the year they scheduled 4 other professional development days to work on eBook creation. During the school year, they collected student work to be featured in the book for the next group of students. Sara Cook published the eBooks online for all students to access and to share the project progress, you can view them at:


Below are some screenshots from a few of the eBook offerings created by Future 2,000 Common Core.

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What did they discover?

All of the iBooks, except one, were used with students over the course of the year.  The students are enjoyed viewing and using the books on the iPad and Computers.  Students liked having access to the book at home especially when they were absent from class.  Also, students loved competing to become “published.”  They seemed to be excited about their work being used as an example for future classes.

As far as teaching, the creation of the eBooks allowed the department time to become more familiar with both the NGSS and Common Core standards.  They were able to find better videos, animations, labs, websites and other resources to meet the needs of the new standards.  Cook stated, “We personally feel like we have a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses of our curriculum than we did last year at this time.  Since our iBooks are Standards Based, this has also allowed us to start discussing the possibility of integrating Standards Based Grading into our Curriculum. This would allow us to better see what our students know and don’t know in relation to the NGSS. Most importantly, this grant has provided us with time to collaborate and develop content that can be used in our classroom, which directly benefits our students.”

What advice would they give to others?

The biggest challenge for this team was the time that it takes to complete the eBook.  It was their hope that they would complete more curriculum during the first year of the project.  After the first work session, they quickly realized this process would take many more hours than initially expected. eBook creation is a time-consuming process to obtain content and find media appropriate to make the books as interactive as possible.  However, they do feel that the time they are spending is well justified if it helps them meet the needs of their students.

One area of improvement for next year will be to come to the work sessions with all content, pictures and other resources already saved into files on the computer and ready to place into the book.  This would allow more time to be spent on implementation & editing instead of gathering content. They plan to continue with work sessions during the summer and through next school year.

From a budget perspective, the project team learned that there were subscriptions for interactive simulations and labs that they wanted to incorporate into the eBooks. They decided to consider that as an important item in the next year’s grant budget, as the funding was not available from their institution.


If you would like to useeBook creation as a way of improving your curriculum, we recommend the following resources.

Digital Art Afterschool Studio: An example of a Career Oriented Curriculum

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Why does this matter in real life?

Escalation: A Student Graphics Company is an After-School Program that draws a straight line between learning and career.
Escalation: A Student Graphics Company is an After-School Program that draws a straight line between learning and career.

One of the chief complaints you hear from students is “How can I actually apply what I’m learning to the real world?”  And while there is no helping Algebra in that department, there are a myriad of other subjects that can benefit from a dose of real world interaction.  This is what the Digital Art Afterschool Studio is doing.  It’s taking a cue from larger real world curriculum programs, such as Career Oriented Curriculum and focusing on digital artistry and community involvement.

What is Career Oriented Curriculum and how can it benefit students?

According to District Administration, a website focused on creative solutions for school districts: “A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children’s Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.”  These real world experiences are invaluable to students as they do two things:

  1. Reality Check Experiences like this show the students the real life application for what they are learning.
  2. On the Job Experience Projects like the digital after school studio create professional connections that go beyond graduation and help move our students forward professionally.

One organization with a stellar track record in this area is the National Academy Foundation (NAF).  Since 1982 they have worked tirelessly with teachers and schools to create and implement career-oriented curriculum.  Schools that work with the NAF will frequently require an internship with a local business before allowing the student to graduate. According to NAF:

“Over 90 percent of NAF students graduate from high school, and four out of five students continue to college or postsecondary education. Of those students, 52 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.”

How do you do it?

Students practice graphic design in a professional context - designing for real businesses.
Students practice graphic design in a professional context – designing for real businesses.

So how are the teachers and students at Overton High School, where the Digital Art Studio program has been in full swing for two years, applying the idea of career oriented curriculum to their specific needs?

According to their proposal “The after-school Digital Arts Studio program … enables students to build professional-level skills, as they develop their artistic portfolios. … The students will be introduced to client-based projects where they are expected to develop a working relationship with the client resulting in a marketable product.”

The program operates similar to a small graphic design studio.  Taking place three times a week for two hours after school, students have the opportunity to really put work into a portfolio, and increase the possibility of scholarships and if a professional internship is tacked on, some AP credit.  Projects are introduced from the needs of real world clients who the students and teachers reach out to.  The projects can be anything from helping a local business create a print add to designing a website for a church event.  This helps create crucial bridges between the school and the community around them, ultimately strengthening both.

This program has had to start small, accommodating only a few students at first.   The principal and instructors consult with local ad agencies to create an interview process for students to simulate a job interview.  The students selected work together to create a marketing campaign to alert the community to their presence and start soliciting clients.  It is their hope that this model will, after a couple years, become self-sustaining.

What is the impact of a Career Oriented Curriculum?

So where are the students that have already passed through this program? Here are just a few of the success stories.

  • Olivia Campbell, a second year participant, was awarded a full scholarship to attend University of Tennessee’s summer program for her Digital Art exhibited in the West Tennessee Regional Art competition last winter.
  • Darion Beasley, King Hobson, and Maurico Farmer (all second year participants) were selected as three of the thirty-three students chosen to be represented in the Frist’s Museum’s exhibition Tennessee’s Top Young Artists.
  • This year’s West Tennessee Regional Art Competition just released their awards and participants currently in the program won Best Graphic Design work, Best Photographic work, and placed in several other categories.
  • One of the program’s participants, Cesar Pita, was just offered a $66,000 scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, one of the finest art colleges.

And these are just a few stories of success as this program continues to grow.

It’s clear from the work that NAF does and how Overton High School applies it to their own program that career-oriented curriculum puts students at a huge advantage over their peers that do not participate.  By giving students an education grounded in reality, rather than existing in the abstract on the white board, we strengthen their chances of succeeding in the real world.  Forging professional connections early on only increases the chance of future employment and education.  By also giving students a personal stake in how their work is perceived by the community at large we give them the opportunity to push themselves to create something they can be proud of.

Learn More with these Related Links


Holistic Approach to Writing in a Chicano Studies Class

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Holistic Writing often begins outside the margins of the page with bigger picture experiences and projects. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bigger Picture on Holistic Writing

What is Holistic Writing?

So what is holistic writing and how can we apply it to our classrooms?  Holistic writing is about mastering the art of looking at the big picture in its entirety before even putting pen to paper.  It’s starting with the sum rather than the individual parts.  Plot, characterization, grammar, cadence, all of these things are extremely important to learn individually; what’s more important is learning to use them in tandem.  Even if every part is working fine on its own, if they don’t fit into the larger whole, the machine doesn’t work and the writing suffers for it.

By changing how we approach teaching writing, we can impact how students comprehend material.

How do you do it?

So what can educators do to integrate holistic writing in the classroom?

  1. Learn and foster a new writing process:  This can include cross-genre analysis of texts, incorporating new media into their writing assignments, and fostering a collaborative writing process.
  2. Require all students to write extensively:  By writing frequently and for many purposes, learners can be comfortable writing extended prose in elementary school and onward, setting them up for success in college.  Schools can aid this process by making sure they hire excellent writing teachers as well as creating a curricula that fosters writing across all content areas at every grade level.

How can Holistic Writing be integrated in a Chicano Studies class?

Teachers at Valley High School a public school, with a predominately Latino population, were awarded a McCarthey Dressman grant to develop a Holistic Approach to Writing. This school is in a high poverty area where most students are English Language Learners and close to 90% of them receive free lunches. Valley High School Educators decided to address student gaps in literacy by taking the holistic writing approach and integrating it into their Chicano studies class.

The course is about the Chicano experience in relation to the following themes: history, identity, labor, gender and culture. While this course focuses on research and writing it takes a holistic method to teaching and learning. Students create murals, linoleum prints, and spoken word along with other forms of art. Each art piece is supported by research, a works cited page and thesis. Research skills are strengthened along with the student’s writing.  In addition, students are required to construct a thesis surrounding their artwork, backed up with cited research.  Instead of teaching writing and research separately, research lessons were taught throughout the year.  Students were evaluated both on the artwork itself and the research that went into it.

What is the impact of Holistic Writing integration?

While initially it served eighty students, portions of the lessons bled over into history courses as the program moved forward. Over the three year project, they will reach 600 students and over 3,000 students will view their murals. Collaboration and teacher training has been a key factor in creating curriculum for this project. In the beginning of the project, it was necessary for the teachers to research the quality of papers at the college freshman level. Using what they learned, they developed a common rubric for the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).

Their program has proved very effective.  The Chicano studies instructor accomplished this by collaborating with the English instructor.  He brought a sense of structure and form, while the English teacher helped the students understand style. According to the report, the students participating in this method have a 79% CASHEE passing rate, as opposed to the school’s average of 59%. The students have used a multi-disiplinary approach to Chicano studies including creating pieces of art (sugar skulls, day of the dead altars, murals painted with both acrylic and aerosol paints).  When this method was later applied to the World History class in the second year of implementation they found the same thing happened, 79% vs 59%.  The results speak for themselves.

If students are given the proper tools to excel, they will.  The great thing about the holistic writing approach is that its reach far exceeds that of simple literary skills.  It helps create a broader lens in which the student can view the world, their work, and ultimately themselves.

Learn more about Holistic Writing

Holistic Approach to Writing, Pt.1 

Writing Now – pg. 4

THE WRITING PROCESS: – An Overview of Research on Teaching Writing 

Application now available

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Applications are now being accepted on our website for this year’s application period (January 15 – April 15, 2013).

Please apply early as the number of applications which may be submitted is limited.

You can learn more about McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation’s 2012-2013 Grant Recipients here.

Here’s to another year of enriching and inspiring both learners and educators!

For more information, visit https://mccartheydressman.org/