Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge Testimonials
LaConner High School – Todd Hinderman
On behalf of LaConner High School and myself, we are truly grateful for the grant award money through the Shell Lab Science Challenge Regional competition. This award has allowed me to upgrade and purchase some very necessary and practical lab equipment. First, I will be teaching an Environmental Science class in the spring. The focus, or lens, for the class will be the indicator species, a honey bee. The honey bee is an essential creature to our area due to the agriculture industry and the fertility of the Skagit Valley. The beekeeping gear will enable my students to develop a deeper understanding of honey bee behavior and the sustainability of the species in the environment. The class will enhance student understanding of the ecology of the Skagit Valley and how the honey bee plays an integral role. In addition to the beekeeping equipment, I was able to purchase a much-needed fume hood. The original fume hood is no longer viable therefore unusable. I have been excited at the prospect of doing more demonstrations for my students especially in Chemistry and AP Environmental Science. I have hit a bit of a road block, however. The portable fume hood is great but it costs over $200 for each filter. With that kind of cost, my classroom budget does not allow for many demonstration opportunities.
The third major piece of equipment purchased was a digital microscope. This purchase has allowed students to view specimen in a more clear and detailed way. I love watching a student’s face as they truly embrace the picture on the screen astounded at the detail delivered by this microscope.
The Shell Lab Science Regional Challenge has allowed us to start building our science program. As you can see in the videos, our facilities are outdated and in need of a serious upgrade. LaConner High School has many obstacles to overcome. This award, however, has given us a start and some momentum. Students are more excited about learning. Additionally, because they are able to “experience” learning, disadvantaged students can now begin to experience science and see what the scientific world has to offer.
National attention for STEM is prevalent. Although this national recognition is on the rise, I believe the best way to create national attention is through experiences at the local level. Because LaConner High School has a 54% free and reduced lunch demographic, many students do not have access to materials and equipment related to STEM. School is their only opportunity for this experience. Receiving the Shell Lab Science Regional Challenge grant has given our school a nudge in opportunities in STEM. These opportunities will eventually reach the national spotlight due to the education of our youth, making them better able to make informed decisions about how science affects their daily lives. It will also create opportunities to study STEM subjects/majors in post-secondary education environments.
Winning the NSTA/Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge has afforded my students a myriad of opportunities to further pursue their interests in STEM, as well is increase their conceptual understanding of topics featured in chemistry and physics. My approach to teaching science is one that aims to cultivate an interest in and an understanding of how to “do” science. I have my students “do” science through lectures and discussions, but I also like them to experience demonstrations, simulations, and inquiry-based labs where their creativity is allowed to take over. Thus, my teaching methods have changed to cater to students of all learning styles auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. No longer do I rely on just taking notes and think-pair-share. These are important tools, but lab experience is also quite valuable.
Students get to put such concepts into action- often uncovering numerous misconceptions about the world around them. Hence, my science teaching has improved to truly challenge students while incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards. Additionally, more lab equipment has allowed students to develop a cognitive routine for self-discipline and self-reflection, all while reducing group sizes. As seen in the video, many new pieces of equipment were purchased to help meet the needs of students while maximizing their educational experiences in my classroom. First and foremost, safety is always my top priority. Thus, I purchased brand new eye goggles and lab aprons for my labs. This will allow students to conduct experiences while being both safe and comfortable. Our Van der Graaf is now repaired, and students have a brand new spectrophotometer in which to determine absorbance and transmittance of solutions. Calculators, electricity and sound kits, and ballistics cars were also purchased to help drive home the many topics discussed in chemistry and physics. In addition to many other materials, students are always excited to go to lab and often take the initiative to research more than what is asked of them in class. Student test scores have increased overall, as I am sure the lab procedures help students visualize what is really taking place and why it occurs in the world around us.
I am already applying this generous award in my classroom to promote STEM nationally. Specifically, students are able to investigate experiments completed by scientists across the country and the world. Several students have also expressed interest in having me serve as their senior project mentor so that they can utilize the new equipment and gain experience before moving on to college. Whenever our classroom discussions lead us to an intriguing topic, there are always a few students that ask how we can investigate it using our new spectrophotometer or other pieces of equipment. Hence, students make sure to stay informed about current research topics and issues facing the world so as to apply it to chemistry and physics class. Furthermore, this grant is preparing students to possibly pursue a career in STEM upon graduation by piquing their curiosity.
Underserved groups that I teach include African American students and students with disabilities. Both groups of students have seen increases in their academic performances since the new lab equipment arrived. I accredit this to the specialized learning received, as well as smaller group sizes offered from the additional materials. Such students are able to take their time and investigate specific topics in ways that best fit their learning needs. Progress of such students is currently being measured through the use of pre- and post-tests, as well as from a comparison of last year’s students to this year’s students.
Overall, this grant has been a true blessing to me and my students. While our lab is not perfect, we were able to modify it to better serve our students. Smaller groups, working equipment, and their natural curiosity are a perfect combination to developing a comfortable, engaging, and productive classroom environment. Thank you, again, for your support and generosity to our school. We are truly grateful and cannot wait to continue investigating more STEM topics.
The Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge (SSLRC) award has allowed me to increase my students’ engagement in science and have allowed for my students to connect more to their STEAM 7th grade PBL curriculum on air quality. First, the NSTA STEM Conference over summer re-energized me to teach great science to my students and keep everything I teach tied to the real world. This was my first true science conference, and I had a great time attending the breakout sessions learning how other science teachers were inspiring their students to love science. The Smithsonian STC Middle Schools’ Matter and It’s Interactions curriculum provided lessons and supplies needed to provide foundational knowledge on atoms, molecules, and chemical reactions for my students so that they can better understand how air pollution is caused in our community. With the rest of the award, I was able to buy a few pieces of equipment to start creating my vision of a mini lab in my room. Just the sight of the equipment increased my students’ daily engagement into what we were learning and would learn. By putting effort into creating a professional STEM lab area in my room excites my students to learn about science, which in turn excites me about teaching science.
The SSLRC award has helped increase science engagement in my students. To measure impact of the SSLRC on underserved groups, I can collect data on the number of students who volunteer or participate in our science activities throughout our 7th grade STEAM magnet PBL. Participation can be one indicator of positive impact of the SSLRC. This was the way I can measure how the SSLRC impacted my students over the course of this past semester. In the future, I can also use pre and post- assessments on lessons and activities that use the mini lab space equipment and Smithsonian curriculum.
To generate a greater awareness of STEM nationally, I can share any lessons and activities I adapt using the resources from the SLLRC award. For example, I have tried to tie the SSLRC resources and equipment with my STEAM Magnet’s 7th grade Air Quality PBL. Once completed, my team and I can present this at conferences like the NSTA STEM, other science conferences, and other education conferences. Moreover, I can also share any activities I’ve made online through websites like NSTA and if they are PBL based, then I can try and share through PBL websites. By making efforts to share great STEM activities, then we will be able to inspire teachers and students to participate in STEM.
Our students (as we worked together for this grant as a science department) have benefited from having a more cohesive Forces and Matter unit in 6th grade. In 7th grade they have more visuals for forces and for chemistry (for later in the school year). In 8th grade, we have the microscopes which will allow for more students to be able to see items that are too small to see with the naked eye. We also purchased some supplies to use for our genetics unit, specifically to demonstrate sexual reproduction versus asexual reproduction. Our students, who are a high percentage of ELL's and a high percentage of low SES students, really benefit from anything that is hands-on or visual, which this grant has been able to help us provide. Students are more engaged and are showing more understanding in class (which could be measured with test scores). I am hoping that this increase in engagement translates into more students being interested in STEM-related careers.
The lab update has made a difference in my science teaching because I am able to plan more engaging, hands on, inquiry based labs. I was not able to plan these before because we were in desperate need of lab materials. There were many times students were doing card sorts during the explore phase of the 5 E model because we did not have the materials we needed for the students to perform hands on activities. We were very strategic in our ordering, making sure that the materials could be used in more than one lab. We also ordered many kits because they included the items that we absolutely needed, plus additional resources that we were able to use in other units. As a result of the update, I have had materials to perform hands on labs in every unit so far this year. I have also been able to share the lab materials with other teachers and they have been able to use the materials in their class to improve their science teaching as well. Last year, our 4th grade teachers were teaching circuits by cutting out pictures and pasting them together. This year, I had enough circuits that all 4th and 5th grade students were able to build real circuits with our circuit kits. Originally, I applied for this grant to help my class, however the updated lab has help all 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students, this is almost 300 students who have had more opportunities for inquiry based learning.
The lab has also made a difference in the students' science learning. We serve a population that is largely made up of English Language Learners. Hands on experiences are vital for language development. Especially in science, because science is like a language of itself. This year, I have noticed that the students are acquiring vocabulary quicker than they have in the past. We have been making sure they have the hands on experiences and then we have been anchoring the knowledge they acquired, by building interactive word walls during the explain portion of the 5 E model. We were building the walls last year, however the students really struggled to build them because they did not have the hands on experiences that they needed. Additional, many of the walls are supposed to have 3D items attached to the wall from the labs, to help the students with language development. Last year, we didn't have the materials in order to do this. Many times we were drawing pictures or cutting picture to place on the walls. This year there are real items attached to our walls. For example, last year our circuit walls had pictures of circuits, this year we have real circuits that light up on our wall. The update has also increased student engagement. Students used to be bored in science and now they ask me every day if we are going to go to the science lab.
I could use this award to generate a greater awareness of STEM nationally by speaking at conferences. This year, I presented on interactive word walls at the Conference of Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) in Fort Worth TX. There I spoke about winning the update and how I use the hands on experiences to help the students build the walls. I would love the opportunity to continue to speak in front of other professionals about what I have learned through this experience and how it has changed my science teaching. Another way, is by sharing my word walls with the researcher Dr. Julie Jackson. I have been sending her pictures of our word walls and she has placed some of those pictures on her Facebook and website. She is known nationally so the work I am doing in my class is already being shared. The school I work at is 98% low income and almost 89% Hispanic with Spanish being their first language (ELL). This makes almost all of the students in which I work with underserved. When I applied for this grant my school was on the state list for required improvement otherwise known as a Catalyst School. We found out at the beginning of this year that we have been removed from the list but there is still a long way to go. Our science scores were about 50% passing. One way we can measure the impact is by continuing to track our state scores. Hopefully, as we continue to give the students more hands on experiences, and as those hands on experiences trickling down into lower grades, the students we are currently teaching, as well as the future students we receive, will have a better understanding of the science material. As this happens we should see an increase in our science scores. Another measurable outcome is looking at the students TELPAS scores. Our students who are ELL have to take a test called TELPAS to evaluate their language development. The test looks at their development in English. The hands on lessons help students to build academic vocabulary. They also have to write an essay that is evaluated, about science content. As they learn more about science, and their vocabulary grows, we should start to see an increase in our TELPAS scores as well. This update has helped me to place materials, in the hands of my students, which they didn't have before. We bought a 3D printer, infrared thermometers, hand generators, glass ware, circuit kits, force and motion kits, batteries and more. For the population of students we serve these resources are vital to their success and we hope they will increase these students’ future outcomes in a very positive way.
The lab update has made a huge impact for the students and myself as well. Having the curriculum and tools I received has created a new challenge to give to my students that otherwise I could not generate. They are building ideas to solve problems that impact their lives. We have been learning a lot about Energy In Our Homes. The lessons offer creative thinking and math. They all take part in constructing something that could actually help our environment. When I start my science lessons and use the term "scientists" I truly mean it because they are using higher level thinking. I also received tools to reinforce solar and wind energy. The students built models and tested them out. Nothing is more rewarding than to see the faces of the students when they build something and it works! Experiments with waves during our unit on weather helped students see the impact that waves have with relation to weather. They tackle the robotics tools with the imagination of a child and the critical thinking of an engineer. When I bring the cubelets out, there is an energy that buzzes around the room from the sheer excitement of knowing they get to build something robotic. The real key to the lab update is that it allows all my students an equal opportunity to learn. I teach at a Title 1 school and the students come in knowing that no matter what, they have science tools they need to be successful scientists. They know that what they build does matter and they are proud of their product. I see the pride when they give their speeches, when they talk about the environment, and what they are changing in their home lives because they are more aware of the impact they have on the world.
Testimonial regarding the Learning Center
The Learning Center is a place where I can get answers and gain a lot of knowledge. The articles alone are powerful. I know more and have more information to bring to my lessons because of the resources in the Learning Center. It has also been a place to reach out to others for help. I had questions about my new Greenhouse and right away I received such helpful responses. I also was able to give others advice from my own experiences on what they are doing. I really like having that resource, that community, to reach out to. I also like how I know about the upcoming workshops and webinars. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to sign up for or attend a workshop that will continue to help me be a better informed teacher. Having the Shell Regional section where I can reach out to the other Regional Winners has been so important to me. I feel like we are a community of teachers that support one another and give feedback on what we are doing. It has meant a lot to me being able to connect with them and share how it is going. The Learning Center is exactly what it states, a place for learning. It is a great resource that I am so thankful to have.
The Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge has had a major impact on our science teaching. It has allowed us to begin acquiring NGSS-aligned Smithsonian science kits for kindergarten (Force and Motion) and first grade (Sound). We obtained ten microscopes from Carolina for our upper grade teachers. They have begun using them with students in Life Science and the proper ways to setup and care for them and the accompanying slides. Second and third grades will use the model of the human body to supplement their lessons in Life Science. We also received robots for all grade levels to use in the Science Lab or our Technology Lab.
Our local district superintendent caught wind of us winning this grant, so he supplemented it with materials from a Science Lab Grant he was awarded. This is what gave us the lab tables, stools, a smartboard, 36 HP Chromebooks and Chromebook cart for research and presentations, a projector, VR Goggles, 3D printer, trays and bins for lessons and materials, storage rack and cabinet, and a portable sink and refrigerator for materials that need to be kept cool. It also provided us with ten additional microscopes and blank slides, test tubes, graduated cylinders, test paper and petri dishes, compasses, handheld magnifying lenses and magnifying lenses, test tubes, droppers, prisms, goggles and goggle sanitizing machine, and Science Readers Theatre books for all grade levels. We were given straws, sponges, aluminum foil, and composition books for science notebooks. Models of the Solar System were included when working on those NGSS standards aligned with Space. Also included are two ice cream makers (to tie into chemistry) and four kits to build solar-powered vehicles and robots with aluminum cans. We received stopwatches and timers to use when keeping track of time in experiments as necessary. Our principal gave us an additional projector and new screen to use on a different wall for other presentations by teachers and/or students to share and discuss their learning. He also provided us with Lab Safety Posters to constantly remind students how to be safe in the lab. There is an additional sink at the opposite side of the room and a fire extinguisher is mounted on the wall near the “STEAM” bulletin board to be used as needed.
Our principal and intervention coordinator developed a rotating schedule for all teachers to visit the lab. Teachers are expressing their appreciation for the effective layout and materials. They say the lab provides an open floor plan that's conducive to easy teaching because it’s so open and functional. It allows for students to easily move around lab tables and access all the materials. The built in sink on one side of the room and the portable sink on the other side of the room helps cleaning up and accessing water easier without spilling it. It’s bright because of all the windows allowing a lot of sunlight to come in. Students are already expressing their excitement to be able to go in there to do science and get their hands on the new equipment. One teacher expressed how the layout of the lab tables fosters communication between group members and lab partners because of their close proximity to each other and the open environment to share their science learning. One fourth-grade teacher has students mainstreamed from a special education class, and she expressed how the layout creates an all-inclusive environment for all students and abilities because of how it allows students to work comfortably and effectively in a non-threatening environment.
This kind of environment will make it easier to observe and/or listen to the conversations as students explore and learn to assess their learning and guide our future instruction based on their needs and their mastery of science content. The composition books used as science notebooks are good tools for evaluating student learning as well as their discussions because they show student thinking and their ability to demonstrate their knowledge verbally, in writing and through illustrations. All this can help teachers monitor the special education students as well in these areas while making them feel included in the general education environment in order to have full and equal access to the science curriculum. Evidence of the grant's impact on students can already be seen in the excitement within them and the motivation it's creating for them to want to go back more and more.
This award has generated a greater awareness of STEM and STEAM for me on a national level. It is a result of my newly acquired NSTA membership, participation in their Learning Center, and the conference held last summer when we participated in last summer’s Forum where we attended STEM and STEAM workshops and conferred with other science educators and leaders from around the country. It has inspired me to participate in the Forums and Blogs in the NSTA Learning Center to keep up to date in all aspects of science education as well as researching other areas for current information. Reading the “NSTA Reports” newspaper and “Science & Children” magazine from NSTA has assisted me in this endeavor as well. I share this learning with all stakeholders at Carson Street Elementary STEAM Academy and encourage them to share their knowledge as well. I also share these resources I just mentioned and encourage them to look into them as well.
Being awarded the lab makeover has not only changed my ability to teach quality instruction, it has changed the direction of my career. I have been a first grade teacher, finding ways to include as many problem-based and STE- based activities into our provided curriculum. Because of my NSTA/Shell award and other professional development opportunities, I am now the school’s K-4 STEM Enrichment teacher. My principal liked the opportunities that I provided to my class of 25 students and wanted me to impact all 270 students that our low-socioeconomic, rural school services.
The materials purchased through the award provide a space where students can easily find and gather supplies needed for engineering their creations. The shelving system is durable and effective in keeping materials organized. The Cubelets® are robotic cubes that do not require a computer or outside software program to code them to work. They are beginner blocks that teach basic commands that will prepare students to advance to computer coding. The students enjoy playing with them. The possibility of designs have been endless. The Smithsonian curriculum and training has not only given me more confidence with the materials needed for the curriculum, it has also provided different activities for the students. Since I am an enrichment teacher, I supplement what they are learning in their homeroom. They use a different curriculum, so when they are in my class, they are meeting the same NGSS aligned standards but with completely different activities. The students LOVED the Smithsonian erosion unit and having to find a way to prevent soil loss from water runoff. They were able to relate this to their real-world experiences with the 2016 Historic Flooding in Louisiana, where entire houses were under water.
My new STEM position is the first of its kind in our district. They have seen the impact that it is making to have students exposed to science that is not tied to a grade. These students are willing to take more academic risks, and are able to accept their failure in a project as a stepping stone to success because they are not receiving a pass or fail grade. My district asked me to present sessions at the LaCUE (Louisiana Computer Using Educators) Conference in November 2018 to spread the innovate ways these students are exposed to more science. Taking it beyond our state, I have written proposals to present at the NSTA STEM Forum and the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference this summer to nationally present how we can increase the equity of of representation in STEM in a low poverty, rural school. I have also become a fellow for the STAND for Children organization. It is a not-for-profit group that advocates to ensure ALL students receive a high quality education. I feel that my career and impact has snowballed since winning this award!
Our school was just awarded the title of Louisiana Department of Education’s Top Gains School (LDOE). Our low poverty, rural school has had tremendous academic growth despite our students’ economic and locational disadvantages. The Louisiana BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) along with the STAND for Children Fellowship will be visiting our school next week to elicit information on our distinguished successes. These successes will then be shared with other disadvantaged schools. So, not only are we impacting all of our students at our school, but we are sharing those impacts with the rest of the state. We may be just starting out with a steady STEM program at our school, but we are moving in the right direction to close the STEM divide and exposing our under-served community to experiences that will bring them closer to 21st century jobs.
Another Learning Center Testimonial
The Learning Center has been a great platform to find like-minded professionals to collaborate with, and find new resources. I especially like the SciPaks. They are a content knowledge professional development for teachers to really grasp the concepts that they are teaching. I did quite a few. I especially liked the one on Force. I thought that I knew enough, but after taking the course, I have a better understanding to prepare myself for questions that students may have. I especially enjoy using the “events and opportunities” section. I have found other grants to sign up for. I recently wrote and grant and was approved to fund my class’s field trip to the Lafayette Science Museum. This will give our rural students the opportunity to go to a new museum in a neighboring big city. When polled, none of the students have attended this museum, so the exposure the students will have to new experiences will be great.
Receiving the Shell Regional Lab Challenge Award has made a difference in science teaching and learning in many ways. First, this award has enabled me to update our science lab with not only quality equipment, but safety equipment as well. For example, prior to the lab challenge, we had a minimal number of goggles to use for our 500 plus students. At least 120 students come through the science lab per day. Now I have increased the number of goggles we have, as well as obtained a goggle sanitizer cabinet. In addition, we now have an eyewash adapter for the sink, a fire blanket, and disposable gloves for our students’ use.
Another way this award has made a difference in science teaching is that I now have ample resources for our 200 second grade students who will be learning about Earth processes, through the use of our Smithsonian Science for the Classroom Kit: How Can We Stop Soil From Washing Away? This kit contains everything from dirt, sand and watering cans, to the teacher edition resources I need to implement the program properly. Also, with this award I purchased a mobile lab cart that can be used for demonstrations anywhere in the lab, throughout the school, or outdoors. When I was awarded this opportunity to purchase materials for our science lab, I wanted to make sure that I made a purchase that would be a legacy for our school. This is something that the students and teachers would enjoy and learn from for years to come. Taking into consideration that our school is 30 minutes away from the Gulf of Mexico, I wanted my students to have something that would be relevant as well. Therefore, with this award, I purchased a 55 gallon marine aquarium kit, with fish, coral, and other invertebrates. This single purchase has transformed not only the lab environment, but how I teach, and how my students learn. I have used the saltwater tank and its inhabitants to teach interdependent relationships in ecosystems, as well as structure and function to my kindergarten through second students. Students are learning how to maintain the tank and have developed leadership responsibilities for caring for its inhabitants. The presence of tank has inspired me to develop engaging lessons. For example, I made snorkels for the students to wear with their goggles, and we “snorkeled” through the coral reef as we learned through QR codes about the creatures inside our very own tank.
Another benefit of this award is having access to the NSTA Learning Center. The Learning Center provides quality research in the content areas, as well as journal articles and activities that will directly affect student learning, and increase my content knowledge. I have completed a Science Pak on The Earth, Moon and Sun that provided quality professional development in an area that is complex to teach to 1st grade students, who have so many misconceptions about space and patterns in space. The next Science Pak I plan to complete is on the Coral Reefs, to increase my knowledge in that area for more effective use of the marine aquarium.
This award has impacted every student in our Pre-2nd grade school. Since I serve every child in the school, each student benefits from the teaching of hands-on science and science safety. Increasing the safety of the lab as well as updating its resources has benefitted each child in the school. Our Preschool, which serves developmentally delayed students, enjoy being in the lab and having sensory opportunities in science as well as being fascinated by the aquarium. Providing an enriched science experience for our students has increased engagement in all subject areas and provided increased science scores on classroom assessments. As a winner of the Shell Regional Lab Challenge I would use this award to bring greater awareness of STEM nationally through my blog, twitter accounts and other social media. I would also use the Forums on NSTA and the NSTA Learning Center. I would also increase awareness as well through my post as a 2017 STEM Ambassador and 2014 PAEMST Awardee.
In conclusion, this award was not for me, but for the students at our school, who will benefit from years to come with quality science equipment and engaging opportunities for hands-on learning.
With the revised Louisiana standards, students are required to model, investigate, and demonstrate many concepts. They also need to be able to apply content knowledge to different situations. Having more materials and tools, my students are able to investigate and use scientific reasoning skills to accomplish these standards.
The Smithsonian kit that I was able to order has given me tools and materials along with a method and sequence to use those materials. Students were able to devise plans and collect data from investigations as well as reflect on their own learning as they were guided by the Smithsonian kit books. One thing that I loved about the kit is that it came with some materials that I needed previously, but never had. For example, the students were able to control their variables in many investigations by having spheres that had the same volume and texture, but had different masses. The kit came with so many materials that my students were able to move away from the more guided kit investigations and move to their own investigations. For example, I was able to put out a box of various materials from the Energy, Force, and Motion kit and ask students to develop a way to demonstrate each of Newton’s Laws. They recorded data and used it to prove each of Newton's Laws of motion.
Students were able to create an investigation where they had to reduce the impact of a collision using materials provided. Students were also able to complete various roller coaster challenges with a roller coaster design kit. We had none of these things before we had the grant materials. With the grant money, I was also able to get scientific measuring equipment for the students to use – high quality scales, digital thermometers, and a whole bundle of physical science sensors that we did not have before. The students are excited to work like real scientists!
Not only do my students benefit from the grant materials, other teachers in my school are able to check out materials from me to use in their classroom so that their students can investigate science concepts.
These new lab materials benefit underserved students because it gives them real hands on experiences that they can observe and explain what they see. They may not have the same background experiences to pull from/relate to as other students do, but they definitely can talk about and reason something that they have observed, manipulated and experienced while doing a lab.
The benefits of having the lab materials and the effects of those materials and laboratory experiences on underserved children can be measured by the frequency of responses and interactions from these students in classroom discussions. I have found that students that have no background experiences have difficulty have discussions about concepts. However, having classroom lab experiences gives them something to discuss. This increases the effectiveness of student to student interactions and makes for more meaningful classroom discussions. Another way to measure the effects of the materials is the examples that students use in their written responses. When students have more hands on encounters with concepts, they have experiences to refer to when they explain. Often, students might say, “This is like when….” and they will relate a phenomenon to what they learned through a lab. The materials gained through the grant have been a necessary addition to my classroom and have truly benefited my students!
How the lab update has made a difference in science teaching? The lab updates have enabled my classroom to be more student lead. The use of the rolling bin cart allowed the student’s flexibility to choose equipment for the different renewable energy projects. It allowed individual pacing for the student’s to individualize their projects. The student’s worked on three different renewable energy projects based on a concept. The students followed the engineering principles to formulate an individual problem, brainstorming with classmates, design prototypes, and create a final product. The bins allowed for organization of materials for the products to complete their individualized designs with ease of material selection. The portable sink allowed for self-containment and convenience for students to rinse their hands or materials without wasting time going to the bathroom or other lab to wash their materials or hands. This help to facilitate time management so student’s spent more time engaged in product development. The lab kits help the student extend their knowledge beyond rote memory and simple project based learning into inquiry based learning. The students are able to take a concept and make improvisational implication based on self-discovery through the experimental process of the kits. In the video students are working at a local river, Blind River, to take samples to use the eutrophication kit to set up experiments based on the kit as well as extensions from the river location.
How the lab update made a difference in students’ science learning? The students are more excited and engaged in the learning process. The students are advancing their entrepreneurship qualities and workforce skills. The science kits enhance interdisciplinary creative connections based on inquiry design. The type of learning engages the different styles of learners to focus on their individual strengths. This motivates the learner to self-engage in experience accumulation and knowledge reflection for a deeper-rooted brain strain for memory retainment. The experiences enlighten students to prospect of science related fields as a career prospective for the future. The depth of discovery focuses students on broader aspects of sociological and economical means of improving the world they live in.
How would you use this award to generate a greater awareness of STEM nationally? The cohort groups are an excellent means of developing teacher support systems to advance STEM across national and international borders. It has the capability to diminish one of the shortcomings of the STEM education by providing more subject-specific preparation. The implication of educational programs directly focused on subject-specific curriculum intertwined with cohort grouping which ends in the development of a capstone project based on cohort development. The convention provided an opportunity to exchange information with individual stateside and aboard. This could have been enhanced by subject-specific grouping and allotted time to share ideas and formulate a working relationship that could extend throughout the school year as a global collaboration. The past presidential push for STEM education meets conflicting national and state roadblocks based on testing focus on English and Math. This creates an uneven playing field for STEM advancement. A change in legislative focus toward a more round student would enhance STEM development. Cohort grouping as referenced before is an excellent means of expansion across state lines and ocean, but time needs to be a consideration toward true promotion of these concepts. The teaching processes requires a huge amount of time so a year long or more process would allow teachers to engage more in the process. This process should end with an opportunity to meet as a group to complete a capstone type project. The award allows students to engage in interdisciplinary projects. These projects can be expanded to area schools but through the cohorts the project could become national and international projects through the use of the internet for face time as well written correspondence to develop a capstone type project with other students. Fundraising to meet other students to formulate a student lead capstone project could enhance the STEM learning process. The kits provided a uniform format for students to articulate different ideas based on the same concept. How might you measure the impact with underserved groups you teach? Or, can you think of some measurable outcomes?
It is important to have clearly stated goals with tangible outcomes to measure any task. Tangible outcomes would be a capstone type project, which would demonstrate the level of mastery of the students. The project would bring to the forefront the student style of learning and concept development. Simulation based experiences that are documented provide a measureable tool for student advancement and concept development. Repetitive practice paired with student and teacher feedback promotes the level of mastery and depth of understanding.
Difference in Teaching & Learning
One of the most significant purchases made with the NSTA/Shell Challenge money was a set of digital microscopes. With the microscopes, students were motivated and engaged in several activities and participated in tactile and visual learning. In Environmental Science, students compared particles of sand, clay, and humus under the new digital microscopes. They made their own dry mount slides and wrote specific comparative observations about each soil particle. Then, students looked at a locally collected soil sample to compare the particle types to the control samples of clay, humus, and sand. This type of inquiry learning allows students to do and apply science, rather than just listen passively to a lecture.
Another significant purchase were several Carolina Inquiry kits. During the same week-long soil lesson, Environmental Science students also explored weathering and permeability with the use of a Carolina Inquiry kit. The students read about the flooding in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, and then used the kit materials to test the permeability of different soil particles, included the locally collected soil sample. Finally, students were able to identify the type of soil that is present locally and connect the Hurricane Harvey article to permeability. They were able to connect a literacy lesson with inquiry and application to make a prediction about how the permeability of our local soil might handle the same type of flooding that occurred during Hurricane Harvey.
In Chemistry, the teachers were able to use a kit once a week to allow students to connect what they were learning in class to phenomena happening in the lab. They were able to use kits to teach atomic theory, gas laws, stoichiometry, and pH just to name a few. For example, using one Carolina kit, students captured the products from a chemical reaction and compared their results to the predicted products from a balanced chemical equation. Then, they used the results of their experiment to calculate percent error.
The Carolina inquiry kits provide engaging lessons that can easily be connected to literacy, allowing students to become immersed in real-world science.
One of the biggest pushes in science on the state LEAP exams, as well as the ACT is science literacy. This is not only important for high stakes testing, but for understanding the modern scientific environment. Engaging in real world science allows students to become more engaged with content, which is connected to each inquiry lesson. Students can show measurable growth in inquiry skills, content knowledge, and literacy. This can be measured by tracking student growth over time on each area, through lab reports, reading, and writing assessments. These culminating skills can be measured by a final assessment testing a new phenomena, where students read about a new situation, design an investigation, and carry it out in a safe lab environment.
For example, after the soil lab, Environmental Science students were given an assessment using a new phenomenon that asked them to apply their knowledge of soil type and permeability. They were given pictures, text, graphs, and tables about two different sites with different types of soil. After analyzing all of the given resources, students had to determine which site would be best suited to build a new football field for the school. Students were expected to use the content knowledge they learned during the permeability lab along with the resources to solve a new real-world science problem.
To generate a national awareness of STEM, science literacy, and inquiry-based learning using this award, a series of videos can be made showing the difference between student learning in lecture and student learning with hands-on, inquiry-based lessons. As a science team, we plan to create a presence with these videos, not only on the NSTA forums, but also on other social media outlets. We are both members of Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Science educator groups on Facebook, and would share our experiences with the inquiry kits and new equipment to help promote literacy, inquiry-based learning, and STEM to educators across the country.
Along with another teacher in the science department, we also plan to work with a group of students to enter the Louisiana regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). This program allows students to complete their own STEM research using the new updated equipment purchased with the NSTA/Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge.
I am grateful to have been awarded the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge. Through the use of the new science materials and the professional development, I have made many positive changes that have impacted how I teach science and how my students learn science. My participation in NSTA’s STEM Forum broadened my awareness of STEM and gave me the confidence I needed to bring a more student-based, hands-on curriculum into my classroom.
As a math and science teacher, I would often “borrow” time from science to have more time in math. This year, I have made science a priority and my students are soaring! Through the use of the Smithsonian Curriculum and other supplemental materials that were included in my order, I am able to plan lessons that allow me to reach the NGSS and the SEPs. Thanks to the training I received at the STEM Forum and collaboration with other science educators, I have a newfound excitement for teaching science! I am eager to see the things that my students are able to do and hear their conversations because I know that they will be thinking and speaking like scientists. Their successes continue to fuel my excitement. I have gained confidence in my ability to implement lessons where my students truly understand the science concepts and are able to make connections outside of the classroom.
When I applied for the grant, I had a vision of what my science classroom would be like. It included classroom where I had the materials needed for my students to dig into the curriculum, where they could collaborate with their peers and explore science. Now, my students are more engaged, challenged, and have a chance to be creative. Sometimes, their learning is by trial-and-error. They have an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. They have in-depth discussions, create arguments, and defend their reasoning about the concepts we are learning in science. Listening to their conversations while they are learning makes me very proud to be their teacher.
This grant is an excellent opportunity for schools that do not have a strong STEM background. I would encourage any teacher who would like to begin implementing STEM lessons or who would like to expand their current science lab to be more STEM-like to apply for the Challenge. Since the lab materials are shared with other teachers in my school, several of them are now incorporating more STEM-like lessons in their classrooms. It’s becoming a domino effect at my school.
I am expecting to see improvement in my students’ standardized assessment scores. The test is rigorous, meaning students must have beyond the basic knowledge of a concept in order to be successful. Learning through experiences will help to ensure that my students will retain their understanding of the concepts. Beyond a test, I can see the excitement that many of my students have for science. Several of them mentioned adding things that we have used in class to their Christmas lists.
The new lab provided by the Shell Science Regional Lab Challenge has allowed myself and the other science teachers at Lacache to do more in-depth and intensive scientific investigation. Even though the new lab is not all I dreamed it would be (that would be Mark Parker’s lab – another Shell Regional winner) it is still a work in progress and we have come a long way from where we were this time last year at Lacache. Because of the new lab, we are not trying to do science in a regular classroom where we must only do activities that fit into a 45-50 minute period. We have the opportunity to utilize an area where students can set up investigations and leave them over night or for longer periods of time to observe. For example, the Science Club recently went on a field trip where they collected plankton as well as mud samples from a local bay. We were able to bring all that material back into the lab and study it more closely because we didn’t have to worry about it interrupting the flow of a classroom. Students left samples out to study and were able to preserve samples for future study. Once the water/sink and the electrical drops are complete it will be an even better situation for all. Finally, we have an area where students can do science safely! The upgrade of safety measures has had the most impact in my opinion. I can do investigations without worrying about safety issues (not enough googles or do they even fit that child) and I can instill in my students the importance of safety in the lab setting. I can light a candle and know that my students are safe if something were to happen. The students (and the faculty/administration) at Lacache have become excited about science. They want to be in the lab and they want to do science. Students will ask me every day “Are we going to the lab today?” and “What are we doing in the lab?” – they want to be in there and they want to be learning with their hands – not through a slideshow or a book. Because of this greater interest we have started a Robotics team as well as a Science Club and I have students inquiring about SeaPerch wanting to participate in that competition as well. We even hosted a school Science Fair for the first time in many years. It is wonderful to see students get excited about SCIENCE! If I could win the final award I would like to be able to show the smaller rural schools in our great nation, that science can be done where funding and corporate backing is not always available. I have always taught at smaller rural type schools and I have always had to find my own way to make science work and to get my students excited.
Rural schools do not always have the opportunities for their students that larger more suburban/urban schools have due to funding and just overall logistics. It is hard to find funding to support just a handful of students when larger schools offer the opportunity to touch so many more and because of this many smaller schools get pushed aside and are not able to give their students the opportunities that a larger school can. As I was raising my daughter (in one of those small rural schools), I often wished I could send her to a larger school so she could have the opportunities that her school could not necessarily provide her with. But at the same time, I weighed the other side of that coin and realized in the small school she was at – every teacher and every member of the faculty and staff knew her and her dreams. Rural schools have the opportunity to get to know and work with their students much closer and much more intensely than larger schools. Students don’t get “lost” in my school. If a student it truly interested in science, I have 4 years of “personal” time with the child to help them to develop their interest and love for science and hopefully to direct their future path. As a small school, I may only reach a handful of students, but at least the ones I reach are truly impacted. Lacache is located in a small bayou community. Many of the community members are commercial fisherman or their lives are directly impacted by the commercial fishing industry. My students belong to this community and for many of them their future is tied to this community – in positive as well as negative ways. The positive is that my students are a “family” and everyone knows everyone else – or at least someone in their family. It is a very close community that supports its members. However, the negative is where a student may never see beyond this community. They may never know the opportunities that exist for them outside of this community. Many of the students at Lacache will not make it through high school. Many of them will HAVE to go to work and drop out to support their family – unfortunately that is the history of this community. I want to change that! I believe that providing these students with some of the same opportunities that larger schools have, they will see that they can go to college and that they can be successful and that they can then come back to their home community and spread that success to others. I would like to be able to continue to provide my students with as many opportunities and experiences as possible in science – whether it is through investigations in a science lab, a Science Fair experiment, robotics, ROV’s, field trips to see science and scientists in action, or just to nurture their dreams and interest. In order to do that I have to continue learning and experiencing science as well so I can help them. I would like to know how many students from this community leave high school and go on to college or other STEM training. I would like to see if that number increases over the remainder of my time here at Lacache. I think that providing the opportunity early and allowing students to continue with their interest in STEM is a win-win for everyone involved. If I can provide my students with the foundational knowledge and the foundational desire to be an engineer, a physicists, a mathematician, a computer programmer, or any other STEM based career, I will have succeeded in career. The only way for them to be successful is for me to be successful and that means I have to plant the seed and then nurture it – even if it is only in the few compared to the many.
Upon receiving the Shell Lab Regional Challenge award, community and school leadership immediately took notice of the desperate need for an additional science laboratory at Saraland Middle School. At that time, there was only two lab-style classrooms allocated to two specific teachers while the other three teachers were utilizing traditional classrooms with individual student desks. As a result of the Shell Lab Regional Challenge award, collaborative efforts among demolition crews; painters; the central office maintenance/technology departments; and school leadership resulted in a new, state-of-the-art science facility for hands-on, inquiry-based activities. A low cinder block wall was removed from the room (which had been previously purposed as a locker bay, art classroom, and in-school suspension area); those ugly sinks and cubicles were busted out; walls were freshly painted; and beautiful cabinetry, smart TVs, and whiteboards/bulletin boards were installed. Now able to perform activities involving real-world application without the strain of exchanging classrooms, teaching practices are coherent and united. Teachers are upbeat and excited to present lessons in a more realistic and safer manner. The science teaching playing field has been leveled so to speak, and all teachers have equal access to materials that will lead to higher student engagement and achievement, as well as safety. Even one teacher, who generally avoids lab-based activities due to student behavior, has seen a great improvement in student engagement and morale. The teachers’ excitement about the new facility became infectious; students took pride in the massive upgrades! The hallway was abuzz with smells and sounds of construction. Students were excited to see and hear progress being made. Science tables purchased by PTO were assembled with matching chairs. Smart, interactive TVs were installed. Students could not help but peek in as progress was being made! Once construction was complete, students helped to stock the lab, and each class was given a tour. Three teachers and a little over 400 students will be serviced by the lab upgrade. Teachers will sign up for lab usage via a Google doc to ensure equal access to the lab. A major difference was made in students’ excitement for science learning. Now, all science teachers are able to carry out engaging lab activities such as the Smithsonian Plant Growth and Development kit with access to running water, safety equipment, technology, glassware, and a class set of microscopes. Crowded classrooms and wobbly desks are no longer a deterrent for teachers. Goggles, an eyewash station, and a fire safety blanket were purchased using funding from the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge. This lab has also been stocked with consumable materials such as plastic ware, paper plates, craft paper, aluminum foil, cups, art supplies, petri dishes, slides/coverslips, and pipettes. The video portion of the challenge was instrumental in bringing awareness locally. After seeing the video, central office and another industrial facility inquired about additional needs. Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge could be a national spring board to bring greater awareness to STEM education and the additional funding required. The other local facility was unaware that there was a specific need until they saw the video on the school’s Youtube channel. Further partnerships are being formed as a direct result of the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge. Greater STEM awareness can be generated if it is discussed among local communities which could in turn make an impact nationally. Measurable outcomes and benefits from this lab upgrade will be gauged through the state spring assessment. Formal assessments such as Scantron Performance Series will be given quarterly to monitor learning goals achieved via the Smithsonian kit and NSTA Learning Center. The SciPaks assessments will also be useful in monitoring progress and goal achievement. Underserved groups such as those students who were previously taught in a traditional classroom setting will be examined closely to determine achievement gains. "Expect more...achieve more" is a mantra held near and dear to our hearts. At Saraland Middle School, we hope to visualize great achievement by showing our students that we expect more, not only of them but of ourselves. Great expectations lead to great success! We hope the resultant upgrades from the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge and additional partnerships prove to bring success for years to come.
Another Learning Center Testimonial
Posts within the NSTA Learning Center community are extremely valuable; professional guidance and unique ideas are at your fingertips. This collaborative community of science teachers brings a wealth of information and guidance. Colleague response time is fast and efficient, and it was exciting to see one of my very own comments in a daily email from the NSTA Learning Center for the first time! With insightful ideas and familiar stories from across the nation, the “Evaluation and Assessment” forum area has been an asset to me. Currently working through the “Heredity and Variation” SciPak, our seventh grade underserved students that were being taught in a traditional classroom, instead of a lab facility, are able to gradually receive chunks of information that would otherwise seem overwhelming if presented as an entire unit. Students are able to manipulate activities such as karyotyping of genetic disorders on the interactive TV units. The NSTA journal articles that our teachers have read inspire meaningful discussions within our science department about content specific instructional strategies and higher-order thinking. The NSTA Learning Center is definitely a tool that is multi-faceted and is a hub of resources for the science classroom.
Scientific inquiry experiences significantly advance learning at all levels of science education when appropriately designed and guided by qualified educators. The material provided for the lab upgrade allows me to now provide more hands-on laboratory science experiences that allows students to generate and test hypotheses, observe how science concepts are put into practice, and interact more directly with the natural world. So far students in our environmental science and AP environmental science courses have built and are maintaining eco-columns, conducted soil sampling, tested water samples, and have been able to explore their own questions with measurement tools provided by Shell. Students in our biology and AP biology courses have been able to extract DNA, observe the action of enzymes, determine the rate of enzyme catalyzed reactions, observe the effect of heat on enzyme activity, use dialysis tubing to model diffusion across the cell membrane, investigate the influence of solute concentration on osmosis, and investigate the concept of water potential in relation to water movement into or out of cells. The school year is not over, and the students are excited to explore more. Moving forward students will conduct investigations about cellular respiration, plant pigment & photosynthesis, cell division and more. With the grant funds we were also able to purchase access to POGIL allowing students to learn in small groups, through inquiry and by using activities that pursue the paradigm of learning cycles, which are specially designed. Although there are differences among the models developed on the basis of the inquiry learning approach, all of the models are generally based on the first model of the learning cycle. Students respond to questions included in activities in a peer-led guided inquiry learning environment, in cooperation in POGIL, where peer learning becomes prominent.
In order to increase STEM awareness among students we provide opportunities for students to engage in self‐directed research projects in which students decide their own research project, resources and research procedure about biology, chemistry, anatomy, physical science, physics or environmental science topics. These research projects has allowed our students to compete in a science fair judged by professionals employed in various professions in the STEM field. This has further allowed our students the opportunity to network and collaborate with professionals in the STEM profession they may be interested entering one day.
To measure the impact with the underserved groups I teach I can compare formative assessment scores and test scores to those of the students I previously taught before the lab upgrade. I can compare the level of proficiency determine from our state test scores (LEAP 2025) of students taught before the lab upgrade to those who I’ve taught since receiving the lab upgrade. We have used this award to generate a greater awareness of STEM to our students by making STEM learning relative to local needs. We find it important that the STEM research be connected to the inherent interests and resources of locality. For example, Louisiana is rich in biomass mass such as animal waste, sugar cane, rice and soybean. Louisiana is also rich in the oil industry. This provides a variety of opportunities for students to research STEM related jobs in these fields. This also provides information for students that have interests in governmental energy conservation incentive projects that reward grants, scholarships or incentive payments for converting biomass or biogas into energy.
Research states that there is no equivalent substitute for hands-on activities where materials and equipment are used safely and student experiences are guided. We thank NSTA and Shell for the support and investments to provide the facilities, equipment, curricula, and professional development needed for effective hands-on laboratory science experiences for our students.
This lab allows students to have experience with a wide range of chemical reactions on a small scale. They observe each mixture looking for the indicators that a chemical reaction has occurred. Students will use the lab handout to record observations and then complete the net ionic equation for each observed reaction. This data is then used to identify eight unknown chemicals on day two. Students are then assessed on their content knowledge and their critical thinking skills as they earn points for writing the correct net ionic equations and accurately identifying the unknowns. The lab was modified using transparencies rather than well plates, because we lacked those resources. Even though, the chemicals are inexpensive and with the small scale they last several years, in past classes we used abbreviated versions due to missing or insufficient amounts of chemicals.
Since winning the NSTA Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge, I have grown more confident in my ability to teach science. This year began with the opportunity to teach only science to 130 fourth graders at Deepwater Elementary. Utilizing the materials purchased with the grant funding, has allowed me to share my love of science with my students. Seeing the expression on their faces as they have a better opportunity to visualize and understand the world around them is the greatest gift a teacher can hope to experience. This understanding comes from my ability to use the models, online lessons, and materials I was able to purchase through this grant. Overall, the first campus benchmark scores, a test that covers all fourth grade science curriculum, increased from 5.6% passing in November of 2017-2018, to 23.66% in November of 2018-2019. These scores run consistently through all student demographics, and campus administration is projecting even greater growth by the end of the year when I have completed teaching the curriculum. Since attending the STEM Forum in Philadelphia, I have started an afterschool STEM club for fourth and fifth grades; as well as, cosponsor our campus’ robotics team. These students will be demonstrating their knowledge in our district’s Technology Showcase in January. All of my fourth grade students had the opportunity to participate in the National Cardboard Challenge in October, and the National Hour of Coding this month. The Stem Forum has changed my view of education by giving me the vision to allow my students to design, create and program even more than before. Every nine weeks, I have given my students a STEM take home challenge. These challenges incorporate all of the core subjects and give students and families an opportunity to work together to create solutions to various problems. This year, I have used the grant funding to generate STEM awareness on my campus, in our community and throughout the district. If I were to win the national challenge, I would use the funds to purchase more materials to integrate STEM into my daily curriculum. Winning the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge will also allow me to continue my professional development and networking by attending the NSTA NationaI Conference on Science Education, and with my administrator present, create a clearer vision of STEM education on our campus. In order to increase awareness about STEM nationally, I currently use social media to share my passion for STEM and my student’s accomplishments. As I become more familiar and experienced with STEM, I hope to create a Blog that will allow my students to be guest authors, giving them a venue to share their passion and knowledge of STEM instruction with the world.
Another Learning Center Testimonial
I have utilized the learning center to create a library to help me better understand and assess the concepts I teach; as well as, to incorporate ideas that will enhance the presentation of curriculum to my students. I am committed to being a lifelong learner, and the learning center offers a multitude of ways for me to continue my professional education. My library consists of Sci Packs, Journal Articles, Science Objects and Book Chapters. I registered for the WEB Seminar: How to STEM Up Your Classroom, which occurs in January. Currently, I am learning to connect with other science professions to create a network that will help me to grow professionally. I plan to become a more active participant in the NSTA Learning Center in 2019, and beyond.
It is truly amazing what can happen when the right resources are in place! This year has certainly been one to remember because of the amazing opportunities we have had as a result of the Shell Science Lab Challenge. From professional development networking to student engagement and gap closure, this program has been nothing short of outstanding for us as a school. In fact, my principal was so excited that she bought my sink herself!
As a teacher, I get to ask, “What can my students learn this week?” without questioning whether we have what we need. Knowing that my boundaries have expanded sparks greater creativity and excitement as I explore new possibilities. I learned much from the STEM Forum and Expo that I am using now in my classroom, such as the array of resources that are available to us through federal and university programs. The NSTA Learning Center has also been a fabulous resource. I will certainly complete all of the SciPacks! I am also thankful for professional relationships I made at the conference. I was able to help a fellow regional challenge winner start a robotics program at her school and compete in her first-ever First Lego League tournament. We talked throughout the year to share implementation stories and connect about enacting change in our schools.
My students walk into my room brimming with curiosity, craning their heads to see what new things are happening. One kindergartener asks every time I see her whether we are going to “do” science today. Every day I tell her, “Yes!” and she literally jumps up and down! Another student, a fifth grader, told me a few weeks ago that she had been thinking about what to be when she grows up and had decided on either chemistry or engineering. She was thrilled when I told her she could be a chemical engineer! The best part, to me, is that they are making connections between what we do and what they are learning in their science classes. Teachers tell me that students bring up investigations we did when working on concepts, and that is one of my goals for this class – to provide experiences that build background knowledge needed for learning.
The Smithsonian kits have been adaptable to my unique format and my students’ needs, and we are even using them to fuel our own ideas. For example, Shell Geismar employees helped us build a school garden, and we have grown everything from tomatoes to brussels sprouts to Louisiana wetlands grasses as we study erosion and coastal restoration. As winter approaches, we are addressing the problem of covering plants during a freeze. Using a spinoff from the “Design a Device” challenge in the grade 4 Energy module, my students are working grade levels to invent an automated machine that will cover each of our ten beds. Because of opportunities they have had this year, these children are using science and engineering to solve real problems in their world.
I dream to be part of spreading this message nationally: STEM education must start at the beginning of students’ school experiences. Given adequate resources, proper teacher training, and encouragement to pursue ideas, students will develop over the course of their educational careers into the thinkers and leaders we need to fuel the next generation. While it is true that secondary programs need to help students soon entering the workforce, the best long-term solution to fully addressing the need for STEM professionals is strategic implementation of best practices at the most foundational level. I had the opportunity this year to speak about developing elementary robotics and STEM programs at the Infuse National Conference for educators in Nashville, TN, and I found that while great things are happening around the country, other districts, schools, and teachers know little about the opportunities and resources that are available to them. I started posting ideas to Twitter, contributing to the NSTA Learning Center forum, and sending ideas to my local Louisiana Science Teachers’ Association chapter. Students need exposure to handson, investigation-based science instruction; teachers need resources, information, and ideas.
Furthermore, STEM education helps close gaps. Affluent students tend to be more familiar with STEM, as their parents often provide learning toys and experiences that finances or language barriers make impractical for other families. I especially find this to be true with many of my limited English proficiency students. They comprise one of our school’s target subgroups, especially because we have a significant number of new students on our campus who speak little English. For these students and for those whose parents simply cannot provide the same kinds of experiences, the issue is with access; we can provide that through elementary STEM. I am tracking scores with these subgroups, certain that our efforts will result in measurable gains.
Moving forward, I would like to expand our resources so that we can better reach our students and provide high-quality STEM experiences that help teachers meet the standards and help students grow as thinkers. I want to continue learning about innovative ways to engage my students in real science and support teachers in their work. I know there is no limit to the amazing things we can accomplish. By sharing what we learn with others, we can empower teachers and schools to prioritize STEM education.
Learning Center Testimonial
The Learning Center is a great resource for increasing content knowledge. I have been adding materials to my library and plan to spend a good bit of time refreshing my memory and deepening my understanding of content as I prepare to teach new units. I completed the Energy SciPack while teaching the energy unit from Smithsonian, and it really helped me with my questioning and instruction. The typical student misconceptions and learning progression was especially helpful for me to provide on-the-spot feedback and analysis of my students’ thinking. I feel like I am just getting started with it due to all the excitement and busyness of this year, but I know I will be able to put these resources to great use over the next few months. I took all of the indexers as diagnostics to see where I should start with my professional learning using the SciPacks. I can use that, along with my unit sequence, to prioritize the resources.
Having the material necessary to provide hands-on, engaging lesson for my students has drastically changed my teaching of science content. Before this challenge, I would try to figure out how to make the supplies in my classroom fit our state standards. Now, I can easily grab materials out of our storage space. The experiments or "experiences" allow my students to take ownership of their learning and are definitely internalizing the material more. They can hardly contain their excitement on "experiment" day.
Our school district mandates that the students take a pre and post assessment for science. These test usually contain scenarios based on experiment and lots of explanations on the student's part. Normally, I stress and panic when the post test rolls around. I feel very confident in my student's ability to pass the post test this year, because of the experiences I was able to provide. I know my little learners are gaining a lifetime of deep knowledge because they are actively engaged in my lessons.
I can use this award to generate a greater awareness of STEM nationally by sharing my student's experiences with all around me. Our school district was amazed when they found out that three of us won this challenge. They were quick to take our pictures and want to share our news. This news opened many nearby teachers’ eyes to see that STEM is important for our students and where there is a will, there is a way.