STEM Learning Culture
LEADERSHIP: Leaders ensure that all stakeholders have ongoing opportunities to access information and learn about STEM implementation.
- Providing education for parents and community members
- SIC STEM Involvement
- Increasing community awareness of STEM
What Does It Look Like?
Beaufort Elementary realizes the importance of training faculty for implementation of STEM. There are many in-house professional developments scheduled to help teachers effectively implement STEM learning. There are members of the STEM leadership team that are available to consult, and team teach in classrooms during STEM activities. Several of our staff members had the opportunity to attend the National NSTA (National Science Teaching Association) Conference. Several teachers were involved in PLO's (professional learning opportunities) provided by the SC State Department of Education on 3-D printing which incorporated other technologies to teach STEM. We have teachers that are and have been involved in graduate classes and training from various universities that have a focus on STEM learning.
Each year as we plan for the Title I budget expenditures, we gather input from SIC (School Improvement Council), administration, teachers, and parents. This group has allotted a large portion of funding to support STEM learning in our building. The SIC has helped select STEM based field trips for each grade level in order to ensure that students have exposure to STEM experiences across the state at no cost to the students. This means that if a child attends BES for their entire elementary career, they will attend seven major field trips that expose them to experiences, vocabulary, and background knowledge that will help them be more successful in all learning including STEM. Another sizable portion of our budget is set aside for the purchase of STEM materials for the entire school including parental activities. It is very important that teachers have the necessary materials to execute their lessons. Additionally, money is allocated for salaries for our afterschool STEM programs.
As we plan for STEM we also keep in mind our students and their families. We ensure that all students have ample opportunities to participate in activities that would enhance our STEM program as it grows deeper within the curriculum. Beaufort Elementary provides STEM learning opportunities both during and after school throughout the year. For several years now, students have participated in the "Hour of Code" program. STEM night occurs yearly. It is an evening of sharing information about STEM with parents and explains ways that they can create STEM experiences at home. At this event we have an engineering challenge that allows families to communicate and work together to solve a problem. Additionally, Joe Ryan, from the SC Division of Internet Crimes Against Children & Cybersafety presented to our families about cybersafety during yearly school Community Nights.
Beaufort Elementary School also incorporates community outreach when possible. They host an annual STEM Career Fair where community stakeholders provide real-world learning opportunities to share STEM careers and experiences with students. Our school's float showcased STEM learning during the Christmas parade. We keep our community stakeholders informed about Holiday STEM events and highlight lessons taking place in classrooms through our Facebook page, school newsletter, and Twitter.
Due to our dedication to STEM education, the budget is designed in order to support the school’s STEM needs. We utilize common events that other schools have and organize them with a STEM emphasis. For example, we traditionally have a career fair but now we plan it through a STEM lens. We intentionally organize grade level field trips that are STEM related and provide a range of experiences for our students.
The dedication of SIC members, the school leadership team, and guidance department to the area of STEM will enable us to continue our initiatives of field trips, STEM night, and STEM career fairs. We will continue to dedicate funds to support STEM in our building. We continue to communicate in multiple ways with stakeholders. We have a parent liaison that works hard to keep parents notified. Our Facebook page is another way that we communicate with stakeholders.
While our active stakeholders participate in decisions regarding STEM expenditures, we would like to have more community involvement in the planning stages of our STEM experiences.
While we have staff members who have been in place through the process of expanding STEM, we need to establish closer connections with members of the community for planning purposes. While we have consistent members of the community, such as Fripp Audubon, that have planned STEM experiences with our teachers over several years, we need to expand this group to provide more variety of experiences and utilize their connections to continue to expand opportunities for our students.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Educators and leaders participate in an ongoing system of STEM-specific professional learning.
- Provide STEM training to increase teacher efficacy
- Teacher’s seeking training for professional growth
What Does It Look Like?As we moved from our special program accreditation to school wide implementation, we realized it is vital for teachers and leaders at Beaufort Elementary School to participate in ongoing professional learning. The culture of the school is to have a professional growth mindset. It is essential that we help teachers grow with their knowledge and experience of STEM to ensure that students in the building have an equitable opportunity for STEM learning. Some of our staff members have attended Discovery Education training and brought back ideas to help their peers. Teacher leaders of Beaufort Elementary School attended the National Science Teaching Conference, which offers exposure to the most recent science content, teaching strategies, and research to enhance and expand our professional growth. During inhouse professional development all teachers have had the opportunity to experience several STEM challenges such as moon landing, candy crush, Breakout Boxes, and spaghetti towers. This type of modeling helps teachers incorporate engineering builds in their own classrooms.
In addition, faculty members presented at a Title I conference showing the impact of STEM learning for everyone in Title I schools. Additionally, they have presented to teachers how to incorporate STEM during the District Summer Institute. Teachers at Beaufort Elementary participate in weekly professional development during planning time which includes STEM learning. While attending a STEAM symposium, the principal was introduced to the idea of a schoolwide reading project. As a result of this new learning, Beaufort Elementary School initiated the One School, One Book initiative where the entire school reads an assigned chapter book at the same time. Students participated in a culminating STEM challenge based on an event in the book.
Fortunately, we have been able to maintain a core group of teachers that are very knowledgeable about the implementation of STEM in the building that continue to add to their repertoire. This group of veterans work hard to provide support for those teachers with less experience through the building through modeling, team planning, and team teaching. Teachers are comfortable with one another and openly communicate to share ideas or think through lessons.
Administration supports teachers by encouraging them to seek out professional development focused on components of STEM. Funds for such staff development is provided and the teachers are asked to provide in-house staff development in order to share strategies and information with others.
One of our biggest challenges is erasing our preconceived misconceptions of what students are capable of doing. Differentiation is necessary with STEM as well as other aspects of education. The belief that certain groups may not be able to reach a certain goal had to be “unlearned”. Our diverse population requires that lessons be adjusted to ensure that all students reach the goal. The end product is attainable for all, but we need to have additional supports in place to help students. Additional research and experimentation may be required to ensure that ALL students are ready to design with a level of experience to ensure informed decision making. As a school, we needed to shift our awareness of what learning looks like. It is messy. It is noisy. It isn’t perfect. Successes teach us but sometimes the greatest learning comes from the designs that fall short. Perseverance is a skill that each individual needs to possess regardless of age. Historically, the teachers who taught science or math were the ones who did STEM learning. Through this process, we have found STEM can be incorporated and enhanced in all subject areas.
Though we have worked hard to prepare our teachers for STEM education, we can always learn more and strive to increase our expertise. A plan would be to increase teachers sharing their knowledge within the school and to ensure that every teacher is able to attend. We would be interested in finding innovative presenters to facilitate additional school-wide training.
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING AND INQUIRY: Students engage collaboratively in authentic inquiry during ongoing units of study.
- Increased opportunities for STEM in all content areas
What It Looks Like
As we developed our STEM program to be school inclusive, it has become the philosophy of Beaufort Elementary School to teach students to work together collaboratively on a common task. As a school, we focus on the Engineering Design Process. It enhances team building and being able to think critically when solving problems. STEM challenges create opportunities for classroom teachers to provide an environment where students work collaboratively, communicate with one another, and give feedback to each other. Students work through the Engineering Design Process as they design and create solutions to problems. STEM provides the opportunity for student driven learning by the teacher providing a problem with specific criteria and constraints while students work collaboratively to plan and design a solution. Students conduct research to determine the best possible materials or process for the solution. This research may include experimentation where students utilize inquiry skills. Communication and questioning by students are essential to the process.
It enhances team building and being able to think critically when solving problems. STEM challenges create opportunities for classroom teachers to provide an environment where students work collaboratively, communicate with one another, and give feedback to each other. Students work through the Engineering Design Process as they design and create solutions to problems. STEM provides the opportunity for student-driven learning by the teacher providing a problem with given parameters, and students then work collaboratively to plan and design a solution. Students conduct research to determine the best possible materials or processes for the solution. This research may include experimentation where students utilize inquiry skills. Communication and questioning by students are essential to the process.
STEM Bins provide our younger grades an opportunity to engage collaboratively with materials that can be used to solve a problem or challenge. The tasks in these bins encourage students to use inquiry skills while asking questions about how they can solve problems in multiple ways. Experiences like this help our students become intrinsic problem solvers.
We work closely with local agencies such as the Fripp Audubon Society, Friends of the River (River of Words initiative), and the Port Royal Maritime Center to help students see problems affecting our local environment and plan partner solutions. Our students worked with Seeds to Shoreline to help offset salt marsh dieback in our local marsh. Students in 5th grade design, build models, and test solutions to prevent erosion as part of their weathering unit.
There is an expectation throughout the school that students work collaboratively to solve problems. We work closely with local agencies to help students see the wonder and uniqueness of their local environment and learn the value of conservation as they plan solutions to problems. Our belief is that collaboration is a key skill that students must have in order to be successful in the future.
We strive to have students be a community of learners where they communicate with one another in productive ways. We incorporate cooperative learning throughout the curriculum but especially as we work through the EDP. Groups must communicate in order to compromise on a plan before creating a solution. We continue to seek out opportunities for community involvement for our students.
Our diverse population poses somewhat of a challenge when it comes to collaboration. Many students lack opportunities and experiences that others have which may sometimes make them hesitant to collaborate with others. Another challenge in finding authentic experiences is that interests and areas of motivation vary over different demographic groups. We need to take careful consideration of the authentic problems that students are presented with in order to motivate all learners. Our local marsh is a common topic that students relate to in various ways and its preservation whether for beauty or the importance in providing resources is of interest to the students of our school.
We work hard to equip our students with the skills to work effectively with one another. This training begins at a young age with modeling and exemplars for behaviors when collaborating. While students do participate in many STEM learning experiences that involve real world problems, we would like to include more problems that have local impact and are relevant to our community.
SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: Students engage in self-directed STEM learning guided by educators who are effective facilitators of learning.
- Ensure that all students have ample STEM opportunities
What Does It Look Like?Beaufort Elementary School does many STEM activities throughout the school year. During these activities the entire school utilizes the engineering and design process to solve many real-world problems. The process includes asking a question, imagining solutions, designing a plan, creating the solution, and testing and improving the design. Much of this process is self-directed by the student with teachers acting as facilitators. The teacher poses a problem and provides the criteria and constraints for the solution. The students are then expected to collaborate with their peers to develop a viable solution. These solutions are tested and perhaps the most powerful learning of all occurs when they are encouraged to make their solution better. Some of the areas where students are engaged in self-directed learning to include: Invention Convention, science fair, Lego Lab, and Makerspace. Classroom teachers also provide opportunities for students to independently complete STEM tasks while they act as facilitators. They will give the students the guidelines for a task and let the students work independently to come up with a solution. One of the projects that the Montessori school organizes is taking care of the school's outdoor life lab. The Montessori teachers are trained through the 4-H Clemson Extension on STEM Gardening. They have used this information to create various opportunities for students to have real-life experiences. In addition to gardening, they also take care of and maintain the turtle, goldfish, koi and bird habitats found in our life lab.
Through our many STEM opportunities, children are independent thinkers. As they have grown and become used to this type of learning, they become more confident in their own ideas and have become risk takers. They strive to have a unique solution. In the younger grades a student may be hesitant and make comments that their solution is wrong or not going to work because it is different. Students who have been with us for several years will have an attitude of wait to you see how this works when their solution is unique. Teachers encourage students to “think outside the box”. The focus is on the idea that a variety of solutions can be successful. The older students can even evaluate the most successful solution based on data.
Teachers have been provided with and continue to be provided with multiple opportunities to observe STEM implementation at the school. Many teachers enlist the help of the leadership team or other grade level teachers to discuss implementation or simply to talk through the lesson. Teachers are encouraged to seek out professional development geared toward STEM concepts and the skill set to effectively guide and facilitate learning.
One challenge is to retrain ourselves. Teachers are used to directing the learning and many of us learned that there was one correct answer. STEM learning takes a shift in roles and mindset. Teachers are trained to step in and help through telling students ways to solve a problem. STEM requires teachers to step back and let the productive struggle occur. Teachers have to train themselves to guide the students through questioning rather than showing them how to complete the task. Another challenge is to teach students that failure is acceptable. Many students want that one right answer. They want adults to directly help them and are uncomfortable with struggle.
As teachers we need to keep discussing the value of productive struggle. Teachers need to continuously practice and learn new techniques in being facilitators and guides to learning. We need to continue to provide the opportunity for students to engage in self-directed learning. We must continue to build life skills such as inquisitiveness, perseverance, and stamina.