My STEM Units

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Take 'all of the above' approach to STEM instruction

Title 1 Admin recently published their third article about Whiteriver Unified School District's approach to STEM.  

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Key points:
  • Consider afterschool, summer learning opportunities
  • Connect with community resources, local experts
  • Showcase students' STEM work beyond the classroom

Take 'all of the above' approach to STEM instruction

Tell a group of students they'll be designing and launching hot air balloons, and then try not to get caught up in the excitement that ensues, said Bruce Goode, tech integration coordinator for the Whiteriver (Ariz.) Unified School District.Thanks to a Tech Ready Grant awarded by the state, the district is wrapped up in a fast-paced effort to create K-12 units that are igniting students' interest in science, technology, engineering, and math while also bolstering reading and writing skills. In addition, the units prepare students for Common Core-aligned assessments.However, WUSD isn't stopping with the web-based STEM units. Instead staff take an "all of the above" approach that infuses STEM into multiple initiatives across the district and expands their efforts beyond the grant work.Here are some examples from Goode; Susan Rodriguez, STEM curriculum developer; instructional coach Meghan Dorsett; and eighth-grade math teacher Kris Van Atten.
  • Science camp: Rodriguez volunteered to develop a science curriculum for a local camp in
    exchange for fourth-graders visiting the camp at a reduced rate. Students spent two nights at the camp. They completed eight modules that prepared them for 68 percent of what is covered on the state science test, she said. All activities integrated multiple subject areas and involved lots of time observing nature and completing various experiments and other hands-on activities. Students observed real-life examples of erosion and animal camouflage, experienced solar power by baking in a solar oven, and even took a night hike to identify various animal sounds, howl back at coyotes, and recognize various constellations with the help of an app. Based on a pre- and post-test, students' knowledge increased by 27 percent after three days of instruction, Rodriguez noted in a recent blog post.
  • Afterschool options: An afterschool STEM Club meets two days a week for an hour per session and serves as an enrichment opportunity for high-achieving students. This year's focus was on the tribe's Dam Project, Rodriguez said. Students learned about building towers and a functioning water wheel, how hydroelectric power is generated, and they also delved into other types of renewable energy sources. Students learned about typographic maps and created a 3D model of the dam and pipelines. Currently, the club's members are working on a website that will help the tribe learn about the pipeline and dam, she said. Rodriguez also volunteers for a STEM Club and Club Tech on early release Wednesdays  at the local Boys and Girls Club. Right now, the program is being piloted with 10 students with hopes to expand as more laptops become available, she said.
  • Discovery Learning Camps: These camps extend learning into the summer with life and earth space science topics at the elementary level and a robotics theme at the middle and high school levels. Last summer was the first year for these camps, but sixth-graders are already talking about what names they'll give their robots this summer, Van Atten said.
  • Community connections: 

  • WUSD is a public school district located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Many families live on federal assistance and unemployment rates are high. However, recent developments to reopen a timber mill and an upcoming dam project have families more hopeful. The district is tapping into the potential for future jobs related to both projects. For example, the tribal hydrologist has presented to students and worked with them on their projects both for the afterschool STEM Club and at the high school level where students built 3D models to scale of the landscape and the dam pipeline and pumping stations. The curriculum developer for the high school is emphasizing various STEM career opportunities, Goode said. That includes lining up internships for some students so they can work with the tribe on the dam project.
  • Innovation Nation: This STEM festival drew about 500 people last year, and about double that is expected this year, Goode said. The districtwide event will provide a showcase for each school's winning class innovation projects and include math and science competitions that students can participate in during the event. Around 15 to 20 outside companies, government agencies, and various STEM organizations will set up booths to showcase innovation and creativity.

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