DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING A WHOLE-SCHOOL STEM INITIATIVE

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DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING A WHOLE-SCHOOL STEM INITIATIVE

A Whole-School STEM Initiative is being implemented at Laing Middle School of Science and Technology in Mount Pleasant, SC. The essence of this initiative is to use STEM content throughout the curriculum to build technological literacy, and establish the real-world relevance and inter-relationships of all curriculum subjects. Karthi Vidhyalaya Matriculation Distinctive features of this approach include using the engineering design process in all classes as a method for solving problems; addressing nationally recognized technological literacy standards concurrently with mandated subject-specific standards; and engaging students with cross-curricular problems and projects that involve practical applications of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In this paper, we describe a “Whole-School STEM Initiative” in which the tools and methods of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are used throughout the formal curriculum to build technological literacy among all students, and establish the real-world relevance and inter-relationships of all curriculum subjects. Distinctive features of this initiative include: • The engineering design process is used in all classes as a method for solving problems; • Nationally recognized technological literacy standards are addressed concurrently with mandated subjectspecific standards; and • Problems and projects that involve practical applications of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics frequently extend across several subject areas.

DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING A WHOLE-SCHOOL STEM INITIATIVE

The Whole-School STEM Initiative described here is being developed at Laing Middle School of Science and Technology in Mount Pleasant, SC. Although many STEM programs are focused on high school students, we recognize that many students, particularly girls, lose interest in science and mathematics somewhere between ages 9 and 12 [6]. For this reason, we believe that it is critical that STEM initiatives include elementary and middle school students, if these initiatives are intended to increase the number of students who consider STEM careers. The rationale for including all students in such initiatives is two-fold. First, many students may have a latent interest in STEM careers that may not be apparent in early years, but which may be encouraged by personal involvement with applications of these disciplines. Second, all students live, and will eventually work, in a world that is highly influenced by science, engineering, and technology. To function effectively in 21st century workplaces and societies, students need the ability to understand and evaluate technology in its many forms. Advocates for this “technological literacy” assert that its absence places society in a vulnerable situation: surrounded by technology, and increasingly dependent upon it; yet at a disadvantage when it comes to our understanding of it [7]. In addition to the motivations discussed above, this initiative was developed in response to a perceived opportunity associated with widespread adoption of new education standards for English language arts, mathematics, and science [8, 9]. These new standards place increased emphasis on mastering key processes rather than memorization of numerous facts, as well as the application of these processes in multiple curricular subjects (instead of, for example, confining English content solely to the English class). In addition, new science standards explicitly include processes of engineering design. The opportunity presented by the imminent adoption of these new standards is to create a context in which students can couple tools of engineering and technology with skills of core curriculum subjects to solve authentic, “real-world” problems. In this context, the oft-heard student’s lament, “Why do I need to learn this?” rarely appears; students know why they need to learn because they are personally involved with practical applications of their knowledge. Laing Middle School’s Whole-School STEM Initiative began in the spring of 2012 with four months of planning between school administrators, faculty, representatives of the Trident Regional Education Center (one of 12 centers established by the South Carolina legislature to provide guidance and experience needed for students to take full advantage of real opportunities in the South Carolina economy), and the lead author who is a professional scientist and science education writer. This planning was critical to ensuring that the initiative was responsive to faculty needs and concerns. Chief among these concerns was the potential impact of the new initiative on instructional time needed to adequately address existing mandated curriculum standards. For this reason, an early guiding principle for developing the initiative was “begin with existing standards.” Another key early decision was to begin implementing the whole-school STEM concept in the sixth grade during the 2012-13 school year, with implementation in seventh and eighth grades scheduled to occur in the two subsequent school years. In practice, teacher interest and enthusiasm have resulted in the introduction of STEM content in all grades during the 2012-13 school year, although the primary emphasis has been upon sixth grade classes.

The first step in identifying specific STEM content was to review the curriculum sequence for all core subjects (English language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics) for the entire 36-week school year, and to identify activities relevant to multiple subjects that also provide opportunities to apply the engineering design process and to address Standards for Technological Literacy developed by the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) [4]. For example, during the first quarter of the school year, science classes study plants, social studies classes study primitive agrarian civilizations, English language arts classes study fictional and nonfictional writing, and mathematics classes study stem and leaf plots, variables, decimals, and fractions. After considering this combined content, it was decided to have students design and build functional greenhouses, based on the ITEEA “Engineering by Design” unit on greenhouse design [10]. Appropriate professional development is absolutely essential to the success of this kind of initiative, primarily because most teachers have little or no prior experience with engineering design or the applications of various technologies. To address this need, two four-day professional development sessions were held during the summer of 2012. These sessions included hands-on experience with tools, electronics, materials selection, and STEM lesson planning. Sessions attended by sixth grade teachers included construction of model greenhouses.

Although the initial planning emphasis was on core curriculum subjects, the overall intent from the outset was to 978-1-4673-5624-4/13/$31.00 ©2013 IEEE March 9, 2013, Princeton, NJ 3rd IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference involve all subjects in the STEM Initiative, and professional development sessions were attended by related arts teachers as well as those who teach the core subjects. As the initiative has been implemented, related arts classes have been an important part of the program, particularly classes in art, computer science, pre-engineering, chorus, and marine science. Professional development sessions also included time for participants to brainstorm potential activities and to discuss specifically how these could be integrated into the existing curriculum. These discussions empowered teachers to have a primary role in charting the course for the WholeSchool STEM Initiative, and resulted in many refinements to the initial concepts that contributed to an effective and robust program. One such refinement was a teacherproposed goal for the entire program: “Every child, every class, every day: Engineering, some way.”