Published December 21, 2017
MECHANICSVILLE, IA – As STEM reveals itself to be more than
just another trend, schools are giving careful consideration
to their individual implementations. This is no simple issue.
Situations range widely from school to school and even from
class hour to class hour. The expectations that states and that
parents hold for STEM success are still evolving. And of course,
the many heady offerings in the marketplace must be weighed
against practical considerations of time and budgets.
When Iowa’s North Cedar Community School District
went looking for the right tools to make STEM a priority at the
elementary level, these factors and others hovered around the
decision. The elementary program was not a stranger to STEM.
The tools already in place were valuable, but the district wanted
to go further. There was a desire to meet more of the Next
Generation Science Standards, to emphasize literacy, and to
incorporate a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).
Surveying the available solutions, K-6 STEM Specialist Deb
Rouse toured several schools, including those with Pitsco
Missions. “I really liked that the Missions classrooms were almost
entirely student driven,” she said. “Students have an opportunity
to take on roles that might surprise others. They might find they
shine as a leader or as a communicator, or they can show off
some other soft skills that are critical in a work environment but
not always easy to foster in the regular classroom.”
After this period of consideration, Missions and Elementary
STEM Units were incorporated into two K-6 STEM labs (one at
each of the district’s two elementary centers) with Rouse as
the facilitator. It wasn't long before Rouse observed objective
improvements brought by the labs.
Here is one. Previously the schools met their STEM ambitions in
part using traveling science kits that had to be regularly unpacked
and packed. This took time. Rouse saw that the lab curricula
addressed many of the same science standards, however, and
without the time-management issue. This recognition has led to
less reliance on the kits and more reliance on the labs. This has
given some valuable time back to teachers.
“Moving the NGSS to the lab seemed like a natural way to take
some of the pressure off of [teachers] and maintain a student-centered,
inquiry-based environment since the lab is fully equipped
at all times and students access the materials with ease,” said Rouse.
The other line of evidence for the labs’ success is more
subjective – but no less important. Witnessing the reactions,
realizations, and enthusiasm of students has given her
confidence in the new program the district has chosen.
“Not only are our students becoming more interested and
knowledgeable in science and engineering, they are applying
skills from their math classes to real-life science. They are making
observations, they are drawing and labeling diagrams, they are
making connections and bringing in objects from their home or
trips with family to share with me and with their Crew.”
The elementary program at North Cedar is still evolving, but
Rouse states that excitement is in the air. She regularly sends updates
to parents and the community about what students are up to in the
STEM lab. And she is working to include STEM on the report card,
focusing on a few key “power standards.” The administration and
school board are supportive. And Rouse often hears feedback from
parents and from classroom teachers that students are bringing their
newfound excitement for STEM into life outside the lab.
“I feel like we are onto something here,” said Rouse. “I am
very proud of all the work our district has done at every level to
make STEM a priority K-12.”