With more than 52,000 students, Georgia’s Clayton County Public Schools ranks in the country’s top 100 largest. The richly diverse student population represents 90 different ethnicities and 72 languages, so equitable access to digital STEM programs and products is key to preparing students for the future.
A dynamic duo — Trina Reaves and Tameaka McKinney— were recently honored with a Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Award for Best Implementation of STEM Programs for their work in K-8 classrooms across the district’s 13 schools.
Choosing the Right STEM Programs & Products
The obvious first step of implementing STEM in the classroom successfully is ensuring the programs are the best fit for the students. A thorough review of curriculum areas in need of enhancement or unique student needs is ideal when considering bringing in a new program.
“When deciding to either purchase or recommend a resource to be utilized within our district, we have to consider the demographics of our student population, which are English language learners,” says McKinney, Coordinator of STEM Education. “Fortunately, there weren’t any challenges faced when implementing the Discovery Education STEM program. One really great feature was the translation tool. This feature allowed teachers and students to easily translate videos, text within the platform, and worksheets for assigned tasks. This allowed equitable access to all students as they successfully engage in this online educational platform.”
Once the perfect programs are determined, an equal amount of support and planning should be dedicated to those in charge of sharing those new tools with students.
“Most often, difficulties exist when transitioning from a traditional learning environment to a transformative approach to teaching and learning through STEM education due to a lack of understanding,” says McKinney. “It is imperative to create a culture where our educators' continuous professional and personal growth remains a priority. As we continue to pour into our teachers, our teachers are equipped to plant the seed for our students to grow into ‘STEM literate’ students with the necessary skills for 21st-century careers.”
Positive STEM Learning Experiences Engage Students
A big plus of incorporating STEM programs into the curriculum is the ability to breathe new life into materials to excite students.
“We see evidence of students' engagement across the district when they are involved in STEM learning,” says Reaves, Director of STEM and Innovation—Division of Teaching and Learning and Strategic Improvement. “This past week, I attended a Climate Justice Summit hosted by the science and social studies departments in collaboration with Captain Planet Foundation. The summit provided opportunities for students to learn about the impact of our actions that affect climate change and what they can do to make a difference. Students then worked in teams to create a plan of action to help make a difference in their community to support climate justice. At a school level, activities and projects were based on the standards but provided students with real-world learning experiences.”
Trina Reaves’ Top Tips to Implement STEM Programs
- Ensure the buy-in of all stakeholders. “We strive to engage our teachers and ensure they understand the importance of STEM education for our students and the impact of their work,” she says.
- Ensure teachers are familiar with the program. This can be done through effective professional development and time to collaborate with team members to ensure a common understanding of the program. Hence, all students receive an impactful experience.
- Monitor and support for teachers during implementation. It is vital to monitor effective instructional practices so students get the most out of learning.
Equitable Digital Solutions Empower Students
For diverse districts who face social-economic challenges or added obstacles of securing programs geared toward ESL/ELL students, finding digital solutions to smoothly incorporate STEM into the curriculum for all learners is key.
“Finding an engaging and equitable digital solution is essential because it empowers our scholars to achieve academic success and personal goals,” says McKinney, who looks for solutions that provide the opportunity for students to engage in varying tasks without language barriers. By doing so, “Teachers are better able to facilitate the learning process, and our students are afforded the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning either independently or while engaged collaboratively.”
McKinney’s Top Tips to Smoothly Blend STEM Into the Classroom
- Educational institutions must build teacher capacity. “Through our district’s STEM professional development, we work diligently to ensure our teachers understand how to properly plan with intentionality to develop authentic lessons and effectively implement those lessons or units of study,” she says.
- Equip teachers with knowledge of all that STEM ed entails. Understanding the bigger picture— including integration, problem-based learning, inquiry-based instruction, etc.—creates a sense of confidence and builds additional commitment. PD can play the role of bringing it all together to make it make sense.
- Solidify partnerships with businesses, organizations, and higher ed institutions. With partnerships that support teaching and learning, students are exposed to various STEM fields they may not have otherwise been privy to prior to these experiences.
- Create a supportive school culture primed for success. The most impactful tip for smoothly blending STEM programs into the learning environment is to create a school culture for all (i.e., administrators, teachers, and students) in which transparency and vulnerability can exist without judgment. She says: “Throughout our training, we often state, ‘No matter the degree you hold, it is ok to say I don't know or need support.’”
- Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Award
- How to Encourage STEM With Student Input and Phenomenon-Based Learning
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