The goal of this grant was to create a STEAM Lab for students and teachers to easily access materials and provide professional development support for teachers to implement STEAM activities in their classrooms. Since our school did not have an extra space that could be a dedicated lab, this proposal utilized a mobile learning lab that was stocked with specific supplies and technology needed to implement lessons within any classroom. In addition to the materials purchased, I was also able to become a STEAM certified educator through an online training program www.steamedu.com. With the help of our administration, we created a unique co-teaching model in 4th grade that allowed me to have some flexibility in my daily schedule to act as a “coach” for these activities. Through this model, teachers were guided in implementing more STEAM lessons using a co-teaching format, ultimately empowering the classroom teachers to facilitate lessons on their own. The STEAM materials that were purchased came with curriculum and activities that addressed multiple standards across many content areas and incorporated the engineering and design process. The use of these materials and the nature of the activities provided opportunities where students could be innovative and resourceful, build off the ideas of others, identify challenges, solve problems, take risks, foster creativity and curiosity, and instill a “growth mindset”.
What happened over the course of the grant?
Materials were purchased during the summer prior to the 2016-2017 school year. I became familiar (through lots of play and exploration) with the materials and the included resources. I spent a lot of time getting to know our new science standards and science curriculum, STEMscopes. So much of the science experience was new to us this year. We taught our STEMscopes units and made notes about components that were not as engaging or rigorous as anticipated. Throughout the year, we looked for ways to include the use of the extra materials that were purchased. We quickly noticed how engaged the students were with the STEMscopes curriculum; however, student excitement continued to grow as we supplemented the curriculum with the materials we purchased. Every lesson incorporated some kind of hands-on activity or practice. We started getting reports from parents of how excited their children were about learning the science content and how disappointed their children were when they had to miss school. As teachers, we focused on getting the students to understand the connections between all subject areas, even though they were in “science class”.
What did we learn?
Very quickly, we observed a renewed excitement for learning in our students and teachers; however, we also noticed that many students were having a hard time dealing with persevering through challenges and handling failure appropriately. The students who usually picked up on ideas and concepts rather quickly seemed to have the most trouble. We even had a few tears the first nine weeks. As teachers, we continued to reiterate “growth mindset” to the students and taught them ways to deal with “failure” appropriately. We also noticed that students were still “departmentalizing” their learning – they thought they were only learning science in “science class” and math in “math class”. By the end of the year, we noticed a marked improvement in their thinking. We still have some growing to do in this area, but are optimistic that students will continue to make more cross-curricular connections as we continue this approach.
The co-teaching model worked very well in 4th grade; however, the flexibility in my schedule did not yield the anticipated results. In the original proposal, I had hoped to be able to spend time in classrooms across the school, facilitating more STEAM learning. Because of the new standards and curriculum and our school size, I was not able to leave 4th grade as much as expected. I did spend some time in 6th and 3rd grade, and while my time there was beneficial, I did not make as much of an impact as I had hoped. Teachers were left wanting “more”, but due to time constraints and teaching demands in 4th grade, I was not able to meet all their needs.
1. More planning time and flexibility is needed in the schedule to meet the demands of the faculty at our school.
2. Add another STEAM certified teacher to assist in implementation.
3. Clearly outline and communicate ways I can assist teachers in STEAM activities prior to the school year.
4. Align lessons and activities with current materials to standards in all subject areas, K-6.
5. Receive communication from teachers regarding their current units of study in an effort to more effectively coach teachers and integrate STEAM learning and materials.
6. Continue effort to co-teach lessons with teachers across the school more frequently.
The current model could replicated in schools across the district, however, we are planning to make the changes listed above to increase the effectiveness of this job-embedded professional development opportunity within our staff. Creative allocation of teacher units could yield a position where a teacher has the same flexibility in the daily schedule. In this case, the teachers on the 4th grade team agreed to add 4 -6 students to their homeroom classes in order to eliminate one homeroom group. For replication in other schools, there must be a teacher who is truly interested in this type of teaching and learning, has a good relationship with the staff, and is willing to take ownership of S.T.E.A.M. implementation within the school.
Overall, this grant was a success. I had high expectations for implementation across the school, and while much progress was made, I was not as effective at reaching more classrooms. We have re-evaluated the current model and our administration has again worked creatively with teacher units to render an additional teacher who is committed to implementing the STEAM philosophy. Since our school is one-third larger than the other elementary schools in Mountain Brook, our goal is to have one teacher work to grow STEAM learning vertically to 5th and 6th grade while the additional teacher works to build a foundation with teachers in 3rd and work vertically downward to kindergarten. Based on conversations and survey data, the staff at our school seem eager to receive more job-embedded professional development through this co-teaching model and are excited to see the positive changes in student learning and growth mindset.