At the beginning of 2011, Learning.com first published a paper of mine, “Integrating STEM through Project Based Learning” and made it available to anyone who requested it through its website. Since its release in January, we’ve received an overwhelming number of requests for the paper from the K-12 education community around the country. The list of requesters included K-12 educators, curriculum administrators, technology directors, STEM program directors, district superintendents, STEM consultants, and several state Board of Education members.
The overwhelming response to the paper was not only surprising, it was extremely informative to all of us working with educators around the country with specific questions around the best approach for implementing STEM. Because each request was accompanied by responses about their current level of STEM implementation, over the last 9 months, it became clear that there were distinct categories of approaches to STEM implementations in development, today.
As a key part of my role with Learning.com, I have the opportunity to talk with school and district personnel about programs that fall into at least one of these categories. Over the next several weeks, I will begin to share the details of best practices of some of these client schools, as I continue my research around the keys to successful school reform through STEM. As this thesis comes together, I wanted to share these trends with readers who may be interested or involved in STEM programs in some fashion.
The list below describes the first 4 keys to successful STEM program implementation and provides examples of how these implementations are described by participants.
1. Focus: Based on the empirical research outlined above, by far, the most common form of STEM implementation happening around the country, currently, is in the form of STEM focused schools. Most of these efforts are piloting programs in the 2011/2012 school year. However, a small percentage (~20%) have been in existence for some time. Of these, a significant majority (>68%) claim school year 2010/2011 as the pilot or model year for the school, with plans to expand to other buildings or grade levels, in the district. Some examples of the STEM focused school implementations are quoted below.
- We are building a STEM/Humanities charter school, starting with k-3, and are seeking different curriculum models to customize. – Curriculum Administrator, Independent Charter School, GA
- We are building a 6-8 vertical STEM program in a local middle school. -Curriculum Administrator, Urban School District, VA
- We are opening a STEM elementary. We currently have a Magnet STEM high school – Curriculum Administrator, Public School District, CT
- We are a STEM Academy for grades 6-8. – Curriculum Administrator, Private STEM Academy, LA
- We are currently researching STEM with the goal of creating a STEM Academy in one of our 20 schools to serve a seed program for the others. – Deputy Superintendent, Public School District, IL
- We are designing a regional STEM high school. – Director Instructional Programs, Urban School District, NY
- We were just named a STEM school by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the upcoming school year. – Principal, Private School, MD
- Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, we will be a STEM magnet school, with a focus on the environment. We are developing our curriculum now based on project-based learning and place-based learning strategies. – Principal, Urban Middle School, MN
- Our district has approved a school within a school to start STEM program for the 2011 – 2012 school year. -Teacher, Public Elementary School, AK
2. Investigate: After STEM focused schools, the next most common category of implementation we found is in the form of investigation. It is clear based on the requests for information about STEM, that many education agencies are just beginning to evaluate the various approaches to STEM possible. Very often this investigation effort is the charter of a STEM committee formed by the central office. Other times it is a grassroots effort driven by a curriculum director with a vision for how an integrated approach to science, math, and technology education could impact student achievement and school improvement. Here are some quotes from schools and districts beginning to investigate STEM as an approach to education reform.
- Our site is investigating the feasibility of implementing a STEM program. – Teacher, Public Elementary School, CA
- We are just beginning and doing research to find out what we will be able to do with the program. – Teacher, Public Elementary School, OK
- We are just beginning to examine the issue and visit selected STEM schools in our geographic area. – Curriculum Administrator, Large Urban School District, IL
- Early stages, it is up to the two TE teachers to gather support data & info – Technology Teacher, Public High School, ME
- Just investigating the concept and possible implementation. – Executive Director, Public School District Foundation, PA
3. Collaborate: This trend is an exciting one, and I have no doubt is due to some of the requirements of new federal funds for education. Both Race to the Top (RTTT) and the Invest in Innovation (i3) grants require applicants to document partnerships between Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and supportive non-profit and for profit organizations. This has encouraged many organizations to reach out to nearby school districts to co-develop innovative STEM focused programs. In many cases, multiple organizations have partnered to form STEM consortiums to make use of complementary strengths. Ultimately, those states who have articulated a clear vision of a statewide partnership were selected to receive Race to the Top funding, however, the trend of statewide STEM consortiums is not limited to RTTT funded states. Many states that did not make the RTTT cut – e.g. Arizona, South Carolina, Nevada, Texas, and others – are forming successful STEM initiatives to allow STEM organizations, universities, and school districts to develop innovative STEM implementations. Below are some quotes from innovative partnerships currently being formed to move the STEM mission forward.
- I am Interim Dir. of a Nevada STEM Education Coalition dedicating to collaboration, reform and advocacy in STEM education statewide. – Nevada
- The Rochester Area Colleges’ Center for Excellence in Math and Science serves an eleven county region in central NY and is currently acting as one of eight hubs for the Empire State STEM Learning Network, a partnership of education, business and community to address STEM learning. – New York
- I am writing the Business and Strategic Plan for the Arizona STEM Network. – Arizona
- We are one of 7 Texas STEM centers in the T-STEM Center Coalition providing STEM support for districts statewide. – Texas
- Louisiana Department of Education has a STEM initiative. – Louisiana
- Leading a regional effort to promote STEM Education. – Wisconsin
- I am not in a school or district but am involved at the state level in developing/promoting STEM education. – South Carolina
- We are coordinating statewide efforts. – North Carolina
- The North East Florida Education Consortium (NEFEC) is supporting STEM programs in its member districts. – Florida
4. Inspire: Though not as common as STEM-focused schools, a significant number of STEM programs around the country are focused on professional development for teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math education, though only a small handful address STEM from an integrated perspective. Many professional development programs are focused on improving teacher knowledge in one of the STEM subjects, as opposed to providing guidance on how to use Project-Based Learning as a way to teach students how to apply specific knowledge and skills necessary for their future. But one thing is clear: one of the biggest challenges to implementing a STEM program is the training of the teachers involved. And there are many organizations out there preparing to be the resource for all the schools and districts who are in need of STEM professional development. The ability of schools to inspire their teachers to fully implement STEM through Project Based Learning will ultimately determine the success of their STEM program. Examples of PD implementations across the US:
- I am working with many school districts and non formal education programs where GIS Technology is being used to integrate community data to help analyze and solve local issues. – Consultant, Non-profit agency, CO
- I am the Program Director for an educational nonprofit that works with schools through professional development and direct student services to improve STEM education. – Program Director, non-profit, NY
- I am a faculty member at a University that provides STEM courses for majors as well as training for STEM educators. The University has received a number of grants that provide professional development for STEM teachers. Recently a grant was received to improve STEM majors’ success, and a grant a will be submitted in April to improve the program for secondary STEM educators. – Faculty, University, GA
- I am a teacher educator participating in the development of a new Teacher education program for STEM secondary teachers. – Faculty, University, OH
- I am part of a team that will attend the Sally Ride Academy this summer. We are getting started. – Teacher, Public Elementary School, AL
- I just attended Sally Ride Academy with Exxon Mobil. I am now a trainer and will be training the teachers at my site about integrating STEM in the curriculum. – Teacher, Public Elementary School, LA
As the categories for the STEM programs began to emerge, I was amazed at the similarity of some of the goals and objectives of many of the programs; in many cases, the only difference is the geographic location. From Alaska to Wyoming, there are STEM implementations happening in K-12 education and my goal is to provide a unifying framework for each of the 8 implementation categories. I’ve outlined 4 here and in my next post I will outline the next 4 keys to ed reform through STEM:
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In the meantime, I’m asking for your input: If your program fits into any of the categories outlined here, I would love to hear directly from you – comments, direct message, or email – to find out what you consider to be the “secrets to your success” with STEM.