Georgia Innovation Fund Projects Open Students’ Minds to What is Possible

Sixth grade students conduct a water testing experiment in a Soil, Water Quality, and Weather course. This class serves as an introduction to environmental studies through STEM. While this class is designed to allow exploration in STEM, the primary focus of student learning coincides with sixth grade curriculum in Earth Science with an emphasis on weather, soil/water quality. Photo Credit: Rockdale STEM Academy

Sixth grade students conduct a water testing experiment in a Soil, Water Quality, and Weather course. This class serves as an introduction to environmental studies through STEM. While this class is designed to allow exploration in STEM, the primary focus of student learning coincides with sixth grade curriculum in Earth Science with an emphasis on weather, soil/water quality. Photo Credit: Rockdale STEM Academy

Many of the projects focus on boosting students’ interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Last year at Rockdale 21st Century Academy of Environmental Studies, eighth grader Yasin learned about magnetism, electricity and circuits in his Energy and Sustainable Technology course. His classmates, Imani and Max, figured out how to create solar power through wind turbines and solar panels. These hands-on learning experiences are part of a rigorous sequence of courses (others include biomedical engineering, meteorology and forensics) at Rockdale, one of only two STEM-focused middle school programs in Georgia.

The goal of the middle school, located east of Atlanta in Rockdale County, is to encourage students to enter a rigorous STEM-focused high school and ultimately go into science-based careers. That is just what Max, Yasin and Imani want to do: Max, a medical professional; Yasin, an engineer; and Imani, a pediatric neurosurgeon.

The students spoke about their school and their plans in a video that describes the academy’s program and its founding.

The academy is one of 23 projects launched or expanded since 2011 with financial support from Georgia’s Innovation Fund, which was in turn underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top grant. Projects include the opening of four new public charter schools with a STEM focus, the development of new STEM curricula, the recruitment of STEM educators to teach in rural areas and new approaches to teacher and principal preparation and support. While not all of the projects were STEM-focused, all of them were designed to increase college and career readiness.

It is still too early to fully assess the impact of the programs, but initial indicators are positive. A survey of 928 students who participated in innovation fund projects found significant increases in self-management skills and motivation to pursue STEM-related careers. Some of the programs are reporting notable gains in on-time graduation rates and the number of college credits earned by participants.

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Bracken Academy Runs on STEAM Power

A Bracken STEAM Academy teacher, Michelle Wheatfill, stands at the front of her class. presenting a lesson to students seated at tables around the room.

Teacher Michelle Wheatfill introduces a lesson to her 5th grade class. (Photo Credit: Clark County School District)

The Bracken STEAM Academy of Las Vegas is helping students reach higher standards. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — an extension of what is commonly known as STEM.  Through the integration of new STEAM technology and opportunities for hands-on learning, the school is enhancing instruction to place a renewed focus on holding all students to rigorous, college and career ready standards.

With the help of an Any Given Child grant from the US Department of Education and federal Title I money, students are being exposed to a wide variety of STEAM opportunities. They had the opportunity to attend out of school events like the Las Vegas Philharmonic and The Science Guy performances, and are now able to access computer labs before and after school. Experiences like these are helping teachers provide students with hands-on learning experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to provide.

“We are re-engineering the way that we teach,” said Principal Kathleen Decker, who has been in her position for 13 years. “I do see the teachers using a lot more hands-on, a lot more project based learning, and a lot more differentiated and individualized instruction than in the past.”

The expanded opportunities and the move to higher standards has led to a change in culture in her school. “Our expectations are much, much higher than they were before [the current standards],” Decker observed. “And the children are accomplishing way more than what we had expected of them five or six years ago.”

Teachers are seeing firsthand the difference teaching with heightened standards makes.

“The students are learning exponentially,” said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Wheatfill, who has been at Bracken for nine years. She notes that with changes happening in her school, her role as a teacher is changing. “Because of the technology we have, [the students] take charge of a lot of their learning. We’re there just to help guide them, instead of teaching every lesson with direct instruction.”

With teachers and leaders raising the bar, students are feeling more engaged and challenged by the new standards. Wynn, a third grade student, said that “Bracken is so good because the teachers don’t stop you at certain levels. They keep pushing you so you can keep going higher and get better.”

To read more about how Bracken STEAM is transitioning to more rigorous, college and career ready standards see the full post on our Homeroom Blog.

Race to the Top Boosts STEM in Maryland Early Grades

Three teachers scoop material from a bucket to put into a small cup.

Teachers Jennifer Mazza (bottom left), Breanne Edmonds, and Rebecca Russell explore macro invertebrates from a stream ecosystem. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

On a recent Tuesday evening, about a dozen elementary school teachers huddled together in a classroom at a Towson University satellite campus in Aberdeen, Maryland, north of Baltimore, debating the best ways to conserve water and how long a faucet leaking a drop at a time would take to fill a bathtub. Mathematics Professor Honi Bamberger then led the group through a series of related mathematics and science problems they could use with their students.

Bamberger also asked the teachers to reflect on an experiment from the previous week in which they poured water at different rates on piles of sand and dirt to see what would happen. While the lesson created a mess, it touched on measurement, the use of ratios and percentages, and involved scientific inquiry –all components of good STEM instruction.

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify submerged aquatic vegetation and macro invertebrates they found on a canoe trip with a Notre Dame of Maryland program to improve STEM instruction. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify what they found during a STEM instruction canoe trip. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

“It was a math-based lesson, but there was engineering involved in it, technology, and, of course, the science piece,” said Lori Pitcock, a fourth-grade teacher in Bel Air, Maryland, who has used the lessons she’s learned from the Towson program in her classroom.

These teachers are among more than 200 current and aspiring teachers learning to integrate lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into their elementary school classrooms. This effort is part of the State’s comprehensive strategy to make Maryland a leader in STEM education. The strategy was developed as part of the State’s successful application for a Federal grant under the Race to the Top program, which was designed to increase college and career readiness by improving instruction.

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NYC Teachers and Students Take the Lead in Design of Innovative Education Solutions

A New York student, parent and software developer look at a laptop to view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge.

A New York student, parent and software developer view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. Photo credit: Innovate NYC Schools

Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee, is working to validate a different approach to achieve innovative answers to longstanding needs of students and teachers.  This approach emphasizes using technology to increase the degree of alignment between classroom needs and innovative solutions, and making students and teachers integral to the change process.

For example, in one undertaking for Innovate NYC Schools last year, the challenge was to develop apps and games to enhance math learning and engagement for middle school students. They invited developers to work directly with teachers and students to develop prototypes — a design-inspired, iterative process of refining ideas in order to end up with products that truly meet classroom needs. Surprisingly, nearly 200 software developers responded to the challenge, from which 39 were chosen to work with teachers and students who volunteered to be part of the product-development, prototyping process.

It is radically different from the typical procurement process in school systems, notes Steven Hodas, executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, and energizes potential “lead users” of new products and services in the schools — the teachers who volunteered their classrooms — to come “off the sidelines“ to contribute their ideas and be a part of developing the answers to their own needs. It gives them the “context and cover,” Hodas contends, to get involved and invested as opposed to staying outside the solution-finding process and assuming that whatever eventually arrives will be of minimal or no use to them.

The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.  And the potential for scaling up an ecosystem approach that better aligns classroom needs with innovative solutions holds great promise for other urban school systems.

Click here to read the full article on the OII home page.

Maryland Pairs World Languages with STEM to Increase 21st-Century Skills

A teacher, Mandy Tang, teachers first graders at West Side Elementary School a math lesson in Chinese.  She has her hands raised and the children are doing the same.

Mandy Tang teaches first graders a math lesson in Chinese. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

Cumberland, Maryland – In this quiet mountain town in western Maryland, a classroom of first-graders at West Side Elementary School sings a cheerful song in Mandarin and then seamlessly transitions into a lesson on subtraction—also taught entirely in Chinese.

West Side, in rural Allegany County, is one of about 19 schools throughout Maryland that are part of the State’s innovative World Languages Pipeline program, which helps elementary-school students gain vital skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as a solid foundation in key foreign languages. Although the students are only in elementary school, the lessons represent an early start on preparing them for success in college and careers later on.

The program was spurred by the Federal Race to the Top program, which encouraged States to come up with innovative ways to prepare more students for success after high school as a way to boost the nation’s economic competitiveness. In its application for the Race to the Top grant, State officials made the case that “Maryland’s competitive edge in an increasingly flat world depends on the preparation of graduates who are highly skilled in STEM.”

The Race to the Top grant gave the State a chance to convene stakeholders who have collaborated to plan how best to combine STEM and foreign language instruction. It also allowed the State to work with STEM teachers on curricula that could be translated into Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. Those materials help the foreign language teachers deliver lessons on topics such as the diversity of life in the rainforest, the science of sound and the three states of matter.

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Bringing STEM to Rural Scholars in Florida

Florida student Phidell and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.

Phidell (far left) and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.
Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a 17-year-old senior at a 450-student high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days alongside some of the nation’s top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, tiny particles with special characteristics. He also attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned that mechanical engineers have skills that can be useful in the field of animation, which Phidell has been considering as a career.

Florida students working on STEM activities in the Summer Challenge

Photo Credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.

STEM education is critical in preparing the State’s labor force to be competitive in the increasingly high-tech global economy. Many new and existing jobs require expertise in STEM fields, as well as post-secondary credentials. In Florida, estimates indicate that nearly 9 out of 10 new jobs that become available over the next decade will be in STEM fields according to a 2010 report issued by the Council of 100, a group of Florida business leaders who advise the governor, called Closing the Talent Gap.

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