All aboard and Full STEAM Ahead!
The educators over at Bates Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina have been working hard laying tracks for the past year in order to bring their exciting project to fruition. By combining Project Based Learning (PBL) and a curriculum focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and working with local businesses they are hoping to create a new generation of students who are prepared to be in an agile and competitive work force. One of the brilliant concepts behind this project is that nothing exists in a vacuum. You can’t well understand engineering if you don’t have a good handle on physics. You can’t code a videogame without understanding the underlying code. And you certainly can’t have music without math.
The Full STEAM Ahead project aims to remove the traditional isolation of subjects through the use of the “Critical C’s” of Collaboration, Cooperation and Communication which are emphasized with project based learning through interdisciplinary activities.
Now that they are a year in, let’s see what has transpired.
Bates teachers, led by the Transforming Learning Together (TLT)
mentor teachers, in the first stage of this initiative begun by identifying large-scale student learning goals for the year. They then researched new teaching approaches in order to integrate STEAM and Project Based Learning to help them achieve their goals, along with developing “action plans” for each year’s practice. The belief was that art can spark creativity in young scientists and engineers, develop observational abilities, and strengthen collaborative skills. One of the guiding questions for this project is ” How can we improve instruction, pedagogy, and student learning across the curriculum through the use of STEAM and PBL?”
So how do they propose to do this?
They began by having their trainers and the TLT team attend a PBL and STEAM workshop that spaned six sessions. This team returned to Bates to lead the entire staff through a STEAM Project Based Learning activity in order to familiarize everyone with the methods. Teachers investigated and utilized critical inquiry to work through this challenge. The thinking was that teachers will experience everything that the students do, giving them the tools to help elevate the projects as well as answer previously unanticipated questions. Teachers then guided students through one PBL unit in the first year of implementation.
A year in… where are they now?
They started off by providing professional development to their teachers during the first semester of the school year. STEAM lessons were developed to be a part of the regular curricula as well as embedded in Project Based Learning. The second semester brought about school-wide PBL units. Then on March 24th, there was a school-wide PBL Kickoff to begin the grade level units. This is where things really began to take off. For this initial thrust into the unknown they gave each year a different subject field to dig into. Sixth graders explored the guiding question: “Are animals placed in captivity at an advantage or disadvantage than those in their natural habit? Why/ Why not?”
The kick-off was a field trip to the Riverbanks Zoo. The 6th graders researched the question and created suitable habitats for animals of their choice. The 7th graders explored the guiding question: “How can we be prepared for the unexpected?” Dealing with the preparedness for natural or man-made disasters was the focal point. The Red Cross, Fire Department, EMS, Disaster Management, Police Department, Shaw AFB and Salvation Army each set up a station to explain their role in disasters and how the community can prepare for disasters in the future. Students researched a disaster and prepared community service presentations on disaster preparedness. Eighth graders explored the, very relevant, guiding question: “Can separate be equal?” This question dealt with the Civil Rights movements of 1960 -1990. Guest speakers, Nathaniel Briggs (Briggs vs. Elliot) and Artrell Benbow (civil rights activist in Summerton and Sumter) spoke to the students of their personal experiences. This culminated with the 8th grade Drama class presenting a skit about the infamous Orangeburg Massacre. Students then rotated rooms to watch films about civil rights, explored civil rights virtual museums, and participated in gallery walks. Students researched the civil rights eras of 1960’s through the 1990’s and created projects to address the guiding question. The PBL classes occurred every Tuesday and Thursday beginning March 28th and ended in a PBL Excellence Fair held on May 4th at 6:00 pm at BMS to showcase student work and presentations.
What are some challenges facing STEAM/PBL learning?
For as exciting as this method of PBL learning is, and it’s clear that it’s starting to work; students and teachers on the whole are more engaged in their study areas… it’s not without it’s challenges. One of the biggest cited in the report is that not all of the teachers have bought into the STEAM /PBL concept. This makes communicating those ideas to students that much harder. Further professional development is needed in order to ensure more participation by teachers. They have also had some difficulty setting up model classrooms so we are hoping teachers observing other teachers will assist in this. But as more teachers undergo professional development and find the merit in this method of teaching the easier it will get. And year two has some exciting things in store for the students. One word: Robots. We look forward to hearing about their experiences with Robots.
How might Robots, cross-cultural references and civil rights intersect?
Let’s mix up that engineering and art a bit, shall we? The term “robot” came from a Czech play called Rossums Universal Robots and is derived from the word “robotnik” which means slave. It’s about a robot who is forced to work for a shady company that then rebels and leads to the extinction of the human race. It’s bleak, but not without hope. But it’s a good lesson and a challenge for students on how we should be thinking about a newly created servant class. Just some food for thought.
- STEAM, not STEM
- STEAM Rising: Why we need to put the arts into STEM education
- Project-Based Learning: PBL is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge
- Project-Based Learning: Students actively investigate solutions to complex, long-term challenges, often in groups
Fourth graders stimulate the thinking processes involved in creativity through an Academic Enrichment Grant
As we face many challenges in educating our children, it is important to emphasize creative thinking and problem solving. Creative thinking and problem-solving are essential parts of the process to turn ideas into innovation and open up avenues to creativity.
What were the goals of the Cigar Box Odyssey project?
The overall goal of the Cigar Box Odyssey project was to teach creativity by integrating the Outcomes of their gifted program with the Objectives of their Fourth Grade Curriculum. Their goal was achieved by emphasizing the gifted process skills of performance, presentation, research, creativity, self-directed learning, group dynamics, and understanding and creating art. The students analyzed the creative process used by musicians to design the cigar box guitar using the SCAMPER (Substitute; Combine; Adapt; Modify; Put to another use; Eliminate; Reverse) technique.
What is the SCAMPER technique?
The SCAMPER technique (introduced Bob Eberle, as described in the design thinking blog, Designorate, by Rafiq Elmansy) is based on the idea that what is new is actually an adaptation of something that already existed. It is considered one of the easiest and most direct methods to creative thinking. The SCAMPER keywords noted above represent the necessary questions students should address during the creative thinking process. For example, for Substitute one could ask, “What part of the process can be substituted without affecting the whole project?” or for Combine, one could ask, “Can we merge two steps of the process?”
What skills did students use to build their Cigar Box Guitars?
The students researched the origin of the Delta Blues and how the Blues form travelled and changed, influencing other American music forms. They used measuring skills, basic knowledge of sound, and creative principles to build their own cigar box guitars. Then the students wrote original songs and performed them in a Blues Café that was set up in their classroom.
The students attended the New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Music Festival where they were well received and able to meet professional performers. And, to top it off they have been invited to perform at the Festival next year. To prepare for their performance, they plan to invite T. J. Wheeler, creator of the Blues in Schools program, to College Park and help the students prepare for this performance. He taught this year’s fourth graders a few things in just a short time at the festival.
How has this program affected learning?
Because of this program the students have experienced the intersection of research and reality. They have had a taste of living what they researched and were exposed to adults who built the same instruments and performed the same kind of music. They were also able to extend the program to include some cutting-edge technology by 3D printing their own guitar picks.
So, what’s next for the students?
With the purchase of a 3D printer students will learn how to program CAD and create (not just print) their own picks. So, both the technology and the performance components of the program will be lifted to a higher plane when they learn to program CAD and perform formally in front of a festival audience.
While there are always needs in the schools in our own country, it is important to remember that other countries have students that have the same potential but lack even the basic resources available to many U.S. students.
This is what Candacia Greenman is aiming to address by working with the Loreto Primary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. The Village Science Project (VSP) aims to use an inquiry-driven, hands-on and play-oriented approach to improve access to high quality science education for over 200 disadvantaged students over a 3-year period in this MDEF funded academic enrichment project.
How can educators address barriers to high quality science education?
VSP intends to target the four main hindrances to science learning in their community in order to better serve the students:
- Limited resources for practical, inquiry-driven science exploration
- Poor English language acquisition
- Little community engagement
- Psychological barriers to learning
VPS’s proposed addressing these in the following ways:
- Providing students with the resources needed for science exploration through the use of science experiments and engineering and robotics projects.
- Implementing techniques to improve English language skills in science learning by promoting reading through tablets, facilitating peer learning experiences and encouraging student presentations through science fairs
- Stimulating community engagement through science fairs combined with field trips and career talks from local community members.
- Creating low-stress environments for our students, especially our girls to become interested in learning science (students are also given opportunities for “tinkering” or “free play” with science kits through the formation of an after school “tinker club”)
How can teaching methods improve students’ love for science?
Loreto Primary School serves over 600 students, with an emphasis on girls’ education and VSP will benefit about 200 different upper primary students over 3 years. The students live in a community with limited access to electricity and potable water and currently, classes are conducted outdoors under trees.
Most of these students never get a real chance to find a love of science because it’s taught almost exclusively in a theoretical, teacher-centered manner. As such, VSP is ground-breaking because of its use of a more hands-on and child-centered methodology to elevate student learning. They’ll do this by keeping a strong focus on inquiry-driven science exploration, which will help these students to develop their critical thinking skills. VSP will also deepen students understanding of, and interaction with the local physical environment as well as addressing social issues that adversely affect science education such as gender inequity, trauma-induced stress and poor community engagement.
At the end of year one the educators working on the VSP conducted initial baseline assessments of science performance and interest of Primary 5 and Primary 6 students after the following programs were implemented:
- Teacher demonstrations
- Laboratory exercises/activities
- Robotics and engineering projects
- Tablet usage
- Mathematics manipulatives usage
- Science fair
- Career talks
- Field trips
- Tinker Club
Revealing effective science and math teaching
The VSP team members have conducted baseline assessments in both science and mathematics enabling the teachers to tailor the rest of their programs according to how best to serve the students needs. In light of a mathematics assessment revealing gaps they’ve launched a mathematics intervention program targeting student understanding of number operations for Primary 3 through Primary 6 students. All teachers have adapted their teaching programs to allow for more time for Mathematics instruction and they have expanded their focus on number operations.
In addition, all of the primary school teachers attended a month-long training workshop to learn how to integrate demonstrations into their lesson plans for effective science teaching. In order to maximize the use of the science teaching aids, they expanded their focus to include demonstrations in Electricity, Magnetism and Weather modules.
Best of all, afterschool programs to supplement students’ science education have also been implemented. In these programs, the students use science kits to expand their learning of material covered in their Electricity, Magnetism and Weather modules. Those aren’t the only exciting things going on after school for Loreto Primary School students.
VSP has also introduced programs to introduce students to engineering principles and robotics. In these programs, students have been using Engino engineering blocks to build simple machines and learn how to code using the Lightbot app as a first step towards understanding robotics. The engineering afterschool program encompasses the proposed ‘Tinker Club’ in which ‘free play’ is encouraged and students build simple machines of their choice. Students are also being provided with tablets to use in the afterschool programs to aid them in their mathematics and science courses.
One of the most exciting additions have been the science fairs which give the students a place to shine in front of Teachers, parents and other community leaders also attending the event. The science fair focused on energy and engineering and students gave presentations on the design of solar toys, the basics of electricity, and the design and utility of simple machines.
One of the greatest feathers in the cap of the VSP project is that all of their after school programs and the science fair were conducted in English and has resulted in a vast improvement in English comprehension. In addition, students have learned how to use technology and the basics of coding through the use of tablets. Their teachers have reported that tablet usage has also helped the students with Mathematics anxiety.
Lessons learned in academic enrichment
The accomplishments of this project have not come without challenges. The VSP team have reflected on ways they can improve their program in later years. Their biggest challenge was the field trips due to security concerns. As a result of this challenge, they have shifted their focus and are currently designing a “Mathematics and Science for Life” program in which students will attend weekend sessions to learn how mathematics and science are useful in everyday life. Being able to adapt and shift strategies in response to challenges is a necessity for success for a program like this.
The VSP team also learned the difficulties of relying on applications that are not as readily available on the international networks. Google Play is not enabled in South Sudan. As such, all apps must be pre-loaded before transportation to Rumbek. Unfortunately, this means that updates cannot be installed as needed. Furthermore, a lack of consistent and fast internet access has limited the utility of many apps that would be very useful for the students. And in addition to these challenges, having electricity in the classroom has been an issue. As such, they recently invested in solar energy to provide electricity to their school campus and are have installed solar electricity panels for our primary school which will improve their internet access.
All in all, it sounds like some really exciting things are going on with the VSP in Rumbek. They’re swinging with the punches and adapting when necessary. The McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation is excited to see where they go in the years ahead. If they succeed, other schools in the region will benefit enormously from the pedagogical strategies that these educators are pioneering.
Learn more about the topics in this post
- Science and Math Education for Development
- SIAM: Developing Mathematics in the Developing World
- Science Education in Developing Countries
- Revealed: World pupil rankings in science and maths
- Redefining education in the developing world
It’s no secret that Lesson Study works.
There are many, well documented success stories and it has been used to great effect in Japan.
There’s a reason Japanese students consistently score in the top ten in the Organization for Economic Operation and Development’s Programme for Student Assessment. But today’s blog isn’t about Japan, it’s about improving the quality of elementary level science instruction and how the educators at Long Branch Elementary in Liverpool, New York are doing it.
What is lesson study?
For those that may not know, Lesson Study is a widely utilized collaborative professional development practice (2015, Wikipedia). Lesson Study starts with a group of educators that pick a content focus with the express purpose of preparing a research lesson. That group will convene regularly to share research, discuss national, state and local education policies and standards correlating to the subject at hand. This enables teachers from a wide variety of subjects and disciplines to cross-pollinate their ideas and research with one another in a directed and focused environment. By observing and critiquing each other’s lessons and delivery these educators are able to elevate each other’s abilities and knowledge base. And by the transitive property, the students are exposed to a well-constructed lesson plan.
How are the teachers at Long Branch Elementary using lesson study?
These educators decided to focus their lesson study efforts on the sciences, including studying a national framework for science education and how they could adopt it to fit their specific needs.
According to their proposal, they wanted to be guided by the following three questions:
- How do we design science instruction that makes students’ thinking visible?
- How can we meet our students’ needs and simultaneously address the new science framework?
- How will evidence of students’ learning be used to help us revise our original lesson?
What did they learn?
The project at Long Branch Elementary has been so successful that their program and teaching tools have spread to two other schools in the region, with educators from those schools now participating in the lesson study program. In addition, at the time of their report, they had three out of the four research cycles completed and implemented, with the final research team in the midst of their own cycle and well on their way to completion.
The educators participating expanded their knowledge base about claims/evidence, science content knowledge, and constructivist methods for teaching elementary science. The teachers also expressed “self-efficacy and confidence in regards to teaching claims and evidence, using inquiry-based instruction and teaching with student science notebooks.”
Teachers weren’t the only ones to benefit. Students had the opportunity to collect data, engage in scientific experimentation and increased the level of science knowledge throughout the course of the cycle.
How did Lesson Study support improved science instruction?
Understandings gleaned from the Lesson Study were used to inform instruction. For example, educators learned that it can be difficult to facilitate discussions with students with varying levels of comfort with the subject matter. Teachers report that teaching students to make claims based on evidence has been a bit of a pedagogical challenge, as the students tend to confuse evidence with claims. They also found that without visual aids, such as graphs and charts, the difficulty in communicating these ideas increased exponentially. These valuable understandings of what wasn’t working in the science research lessons provided educators with specific modifications they could make in their lessons to make student learning more effective.
What did they learn about implementing Lesson Study?
The structure of their school is not very supportive of lesson study which has forced them to start their meetings during the summer. They found they cast too wide a net when it came to getting the research groups started and think that scaling down the research lessons will improve the speed in which they can be implemented.
How can you make this work at your school?
Research and texts on lesson study are not hard to come by. The biggest challenge you can face is that your school does not have the time or resources to implement the necessary bits and pieces at study inception, however, once the process gets going the road gets easier as the work invested makes future studies easier. Bottom line? Lesson study works. Make it work for you.
Learn more about Lesson Study
Connecting lessons learned in classrooms to real world applications is one of the great challenges in teaching. Teachers and administrators at Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana have come up with an innovative new classroom model to address that challenge.
What is the CFCO?
They have created the Center for Family and Community Outreach (CFCO), which aims to use student skills (built around academic content) to create documents, multimedia, events, presentations, and more for over twenty non-profit organizations in their community.
Educators are able to connect students with members of the non-profit community, creating a symbiotic relationship wherein the student gains valuable real-life skills and the non-profits get a free service. Not only is it easier to engage teenage minds directly if they feel a sense of involvement and contribution towards the betterment of their community, it also helps teens build invaluable skills for the transition into their adult lives.
How can service learning support non-profits and drive engagement for learners?
There are many service learning projects around the country, but few, if any, that drives content in the classroom around producing products for non-profits. The CFCO model has elements of numerous trends in education, such as:
- project-based learning
- student-centered learning
- and new technology,
but is truly innovative for the level of engagement it produces for students.
This program has seven distinct goals.
- Research the non-profit groups and social issues in students’ communities.
- Hold ‘Round Table’ discussions with local experts on special topic issues using the latest online literature and information.
- Tour the non-profit facilities and volunteer with local organizations and events.
- Collaborate with leaders on project ideas and write formal proposals
- Use project based learning and technology to design and create materials
- “Pitch” their ideas through benchmarks and final presentations
- Openly communicate with the community through blogging and video reflections.
Importance of Community Support
Students are immersed in the tangible application of skills from the classroom, and since students know what they are doing will have a real impact on their community, it is readily apparent how seriously they take it. The program has relied on a tremendous amount of community support and is currently in it’s third year of operation. Fortunately they continue to draw in new non-profit partners based on the satisfaction of their initial partners and publicity the projects have generated for the mission of non-profits in Evansville.
What is the impact?
So where are the teachers and students of Harrison High School now, a year into the program? Reports have come back with very positive results, including:
- Students have a sense of ownership and engagement in their work as well as their community.
- Non-profit data shows that the community’s organizations have much higher perception of the schools and teens’ abilities after working with the CFCO.
Moving forward they plan on moving the program to a half day model, to increase student exposure, as well as continuing to nurture community involvement and contribution.
With such an easily adaptable model, educators around the country should be looking to Evansville, and Harrison High School in particular. How they proceed could very well dictate how dozens of similar programs pop up in the future. Community involvement and concrete links between lessons learned in the classroom and real world applications are key in both advancing education as well as building a student body that is invested in the present and future of their community. While the saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” has been politicized as of late, I think we can all agree that fostering a child’s investment and involvement in his or her village can only lead to positive results.
For more information
- What is Service Learning?
- NSSE Results 2013 (teachingresearcher.wordpress.com)
- Creating Space for Marginalized Voices: Re-focusing Service Learning on Community Change and Social Justice (knrajlibrary.wordpress.com)
- Online Student is Set on ReStore-ing Ethics (blogs.msbcollege.edu)