If you want to build something that works, learn from somebody who has already done it. This philosophy was one of the inspirations for a recent visit I made to the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District in Yorba Linda, CA. Two teachers in the district, Robert McLeish and Mary Chapluk, had been identified by a few of my Pitsco colleagues as a model example of how to implement STEM Expeditions® in a classroom.
STEM Expeditions is a cloud-based STEM solution that promotes science inquiry, math practices, and engineering design principles by incorporating STEM concepts into real-world, relevant activities. STEM Expeditions use Essential Questions to define the purpose for students as they study concepts related to real-world problems and challenges. Students work in collaborative teams as they try to develop answers to these Essential Questions.
Why STEM Expeditions?
Why are STEM Expeditions the best route to energizing and engaging students in STEM learning? The answer is at the beginning of the question, “Why. . . ?” All student want to know why they are learning something, what use it will be to them, or if there is a point to learning it.
The STEM Expeditions do this by their very nature; they provide students with the context and meaning for learning content. They give the students realistic scenarios where this type of information might be needed or utilized. Instructors no longer have to search for answers to these types of questions. Students are engaged from the outset with the answers.
Yorba Linda has had Pitsco Modules for years and recently transitioned to STEM Expeditions in the two labs where they were operating the Modules. Robert had been a longtime Modules facilitator and tech ed teacher and Mary had been a science teacher for many years before switching over to the position of Modules facilitator the last two years. If you had to sum up what the strategy has been for Robert and Mary’s success with STEM Expeditions with one word, it would be ownership!
Both have made adjustments to how they approach the day and instruction, and both have developed systems for classroom management that work for them and their own instructional styles. They have developed and shared documents with one another to help them meet a local district requirement to expedite their classroom management duties.
Their students have responded to this ownership. As these teachers fly around the classrooms to visit with each of the students during the course of the classes, the students work through and solve problems on their own. The students are excited about the opportunities to show off the accomplishments of a successful engineering challenge.
They are engaged with the material, not to mention they are on task and focused from start to finish. Although the material is challenging, words such as meaningful, interesting, and fun are used by the students to describe the STEM Expeditions experience in both classrooms.
Your Strategy for Success – Own it!It’s not surprising that the key to success is ownership for Robert and Mary’s classrooms. It enables them to better manage their experience and success, but it also empowers students to own their own education. A few pieces of advice to help you take ownership of your STEM Expeditions:
- Be familiar with the content students will go through. Both Robert and Mary know what is expected from their students in each Expedition.
- Be observant of and available to your students during the class. Robert and Mary are at every station in the classroom multiple times during each class period, evaluating some part of the student performance both formally and informally.
- Develop systems that make your classroom management easier. Simple forms that might only apply to your situation or systems for checking in and out equipment can save you hours in the long run.
Here’s to more doing, growing, and owning! If you’d like to read more about this program, check out a recent Network article, "'More creativity and divergent thinking.'"