"When teachers stop learning, so do students” writes famed author Jim Knight. Navajo County Education Service Agency (NCESA) provides training throughout the year for teachers, under the auspices of the Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Office. This past year, 33 local teachers from 5 school districts across Navajo and Apache counties invested over 100 hours of their personal time to continue learning, to stay abreast of the latest research, and to incorporate STEM into their classrooms. The program was made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Education.
Course designer, Susan Rodriguez of NCESA, and Gail Campbell of Mill Canyon Consulting, took a hard look at what teachers know and are able to do and used that information to shape the course. “After looking at the data, we found there were gaps in the science content knowledge (of the teachers) and there were elements missing in science lessons. We used that information to guide us as we designed the STEM course,” Rodriguez shares.
Their course began last summer when teachers attended a weeklong Biology Boot Camp put on by Northland Pioneer College using the meeting space at the White Mountain Nature Center. They took water samples from Big Springs Environmental Study Area and examined organisms under microscopes. Last September, local Wildlife Biologist Dan Groebner from Game and Fish explained the importance of ecosystem balance at the constructed wetlands in Pinetop. There, teachers used telemetry equipment and learned how to use real-life problems to engage students in classroom lessons. “I wish every student had the chance to experience outdoor science like we did,” states Show Low teacher Rachel Podoll.
The course continued on the journey monthly, moving the teachers from molecules to organisms. They even had a special lesson taught by the Education Ranger from Petrified Forest National Park. Every lesson was designed to increase teacher knowledge in science and help teachers take that new knowledge directly into their classrooms. In the end, the teachers created STEM units for grades Kindergarten through middle school. The STEM units are multi-lesson projects that are based on Arizona state standards. Teachers interested in using the STEM units in their classrooms can find the resources at www.MSPSTEM.weebly.com
Teachers were observed before they started the course and again upon completion of the course. Their scores were then compared with teachers who had not taken the course. “The results are extremely statistically significant,” shares external evaluator Gail Campbell. The teachers who did not take the course saw an increase in their scores of 17% whereas the teachers who did complete the course increased their scores by 78%.
“The exciting part of the data is that the teachers increased their skills in the classroom. These skills don’t just apply to science lessons, but to all lessons. These thirty-three teachers have increased their skills and added strategies that they can use in all their lessons, every year,” Rodriguez emphasized.
In her final report to the US Department of Education, Campbell writes, “The takeaway for the community partners was to recognize the rewards of working together, to share resources, and to make real world opportunities available for students.”