Executive Summary Questions
1. Provide a general description of the learning experiences in which the STEM students were most successful. Additionally, generally describe the learning experiences that need improvement for greater student success.
Okatie Elementary School began implementing a STEM-dedicated learning model in August, 2015 to prepare our students for careers of tomorrow. Through professional development, collaborative planning, and curriculum maps, teachers have been able to design project-based learning and performance-based assessments aligned to grade level standards. Integration across subject area curriculum creates a challenging environment with authentic application.
Learning experiences occur in classrooms, the STEM-centered lab, and science-based field studies. In the classroom, teachers and students work in critical-thinking teams, collaborating and problem-solving to create innovative solutions to real-world problems. Students test hypotheses, solve problems, and share solutions through an inquiry-based learning approach in the STEM-based science lab.
When students successfully completed their learning objectives in the Weather Unit, partners worked cooperatively in the Engineering Process to design something to protect a duck who was afraid of getting rained on when he went outdoors. During class time, students explored different materials to determine whether or not they were waterproof. Students selected their materials, worked collaboratively to develop an idea, and practiced drawing a blueprint before building a prototype.
Students utilized knowledge gained in the Earth Science Unit and worked together to gather Earth materials to build termite huts. Throughout the process, students assessed their learning and adjusted their blueprints to build a freestanding hut. Authentic learning was demonstrated as students were able to explain why specific materials are used to build man-made structures throughout the world.
Prior knowledge of surface tension and air pressure was used to design a sailboat out of recyclable materials. Second graders strengthened their STEM disciplines during this unit as they tested and retested their design until their boat successfully floated on the surface of the water.
Third grade students strengthened their Computer Engineering skills as they used technology to build a snowman in the South. Students utilized their knowledge of x and y axes, geometry shapes, and coding to successfully build and personalize a snowman.
Students in fourth grade demonstrated their understanding of the properties of light and sound as forms of energy through various STEM projects. To enhance their knowledge of how energy travels and transforms, students worked through challenges to create simple circuits. This information, along with other knowledge gained in their physical science unit, was utilized to build solar ovens. The Engineering Design Process was implemented to draw a blueprint, create a prototype, test (degrees inside the oven after a half-hour), and redesign their ovens before testing their effectiveness.
Fifth Grade students explored the laws of physics as they worked collaboratively to create a marble roller coaster. During this time, students explored concepts of friction, balanced and unbalanced forces, and inertia. Engineering skills were strengthened when designs were tested and retested throughout the unit.
Opportunities beyond the school building including science-related field trips, allow students to explore science, technology, engineering, and math in the world around them.
Interdisciplinary, science-based field studies enhance learning at all grade levels. From growing and picking vegetables and examining indigenous flora and fauna, to exploring space, students are afforded multiple opportunities for hands-on experiences. Students at Camp Driftwood were able to discuss and investigate the importance of the salt marsh as a habitat and evaluate its role in the ecosystem. Caw-Caw Interpretive Center is where students examined the historical technology of creating rice paddies out of cypress swamps and identified native plants and animals and their role in everyday life.
While we are extremely proud of the STEM opportunities afforded to our students, we are always looking to improve and expand on what we are providing. We are working collaboratively as a staff and seeking additional outside resources to expand our STEM opportunities, as well as actively seeking ways to involve community members and stakeholders to a greater extent.
2. Provide examples of how the STEM educators and facilitators implement and sustain the core tenets of an effective and age-appropriate STEM curriculum.
STEM educators at OES have implemented a collaborative planning model, sharing practices and core strategies that support an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. Teachers participate in collaborative meetings to discuss research-based methods to engage students in STEM activities using district grade-level curriculum maps. In addition, teachers meet with the district STEM coordinator for assistance in implementing our STEM learning experiences. Similarly, our school-based numeracy coach meets with teachers to analyze current data to develop performance tasks and assessments that extend core curriculum. Educators consistently share STEM exemplars at monthly staff meetings. Learning garnered from STEM-related trainings such as the SC EdTech conference is presented during staff meetings and is implemented by teachers in the classroom. Using the PBS media website as a resource, teachers are able to share videos and quizzes in Google Classroom for students to utilize at school and home.
STEM committee meetings provide another avenue for planning and sharing STEM-based projects and goals. Members from each grade level meet monthly to plan and facilitate STEM-related projects within the school day, as well as extra-curricular evening activities. Connecting to student interest and incorporating examples of the world around them are paramount to the success of STEM.
In conclusion, STEM learning experiences are evident throughout the building as students and teachers engage in critical-thinking teams, collaboration, and problem-solving situations with real-world application. The scientific process is supported through an inquiry-based learning setting. Our local environment provides an abundance of resources that lend to additional student engagement.