Additional Placentia-Yorba Linda (CA) USD articles:
PLACENTIA, CA – The numbers don’t lie. Upgrades and
additions to the STEM curriculum from elementary through
high school in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District
(PYLUSD) have yielded some promising results.
The indisputably positive numbers – made possible in
part by a $6 million California Pathways Trust Grant – are the
enrollment figures in the district’s new middle-level Pitsco
STEM Expeditions® labs, which replaced the Pitsco Modules
labs PYL students had used for more than a decade.
“There was a huge demand from incoming sixth graders,
which is probably why I have two sections of sixth graders,”
said Mary Chapluk, Expeditions lab facilitator and science
teacher at Travis Ranch Middle School. “They all wanted to
take STEM, which is why my classes are the biggest they’ve
ever been. They’re maxed out.”
PYL Director of Innovation and Technology Cary Johnson
said one of the grant’s primary aims is to increase participation
in career technical education, so the southern California district’s
game plan is working. Even better, enrollment
among females in the Pitsco labs is increasing.
At Tuffree Middle School, the number of
females in STEM has doubled this year.
“We have some very very very talented
young ladies, and sometimes we misdirect
them by sending them to other classes rather
than directing them to engineering,” said
Tuffree Pitsco Lab Facilitator Robert McLeish.
“Some of my best students this year in Rolling Robots with all
the gears and mechanics are my young ladies, who are getting
labeled gearheads because they’re doing so well in this program.”
The PYL STEM continuum starts at the elementary level
where Pitsco Missions labs are stimulating deeper thought
and understanding of science and engineering. The Pitsco
Expeditions labs serve as an introduction for middle schoolers
who get to experience and explore common career fields prior
to deciding which pathway they want to pursue as freshmen.
CareerLink Academies have been established at all five high
schools, creating pathways in engineering, manufacturing, law,
digital media arts, and culinary and hospitality, among others.
Johnson says the 21st-century skills students practice daily
in the Missions and Expeditions, such as problem-solving,
critical thinking, and collaboration, will position them to take
on whatever challenges the future holds. (See Administrators’ Corner.)
PILOT LABS SET THE PACE
Although happy with the Pitsco STEM Modules they had
been using for years, PYL officials knew it was time to take the
next step, so two of the six middle schools – Travis Ranch and
Tuffree – were outfitted to pilot test the STEM Expeditions in
2016-17. Chapluk and McLeish put the program through its
paces and quickly discovered more room for student creativity
and more opportunities to problem-solve – all within timely
and engaging career contexts. (See related article.)
“I said, ‘This is great! Definitely, we should roll it out to the
other middle schools,’” Chapluk said. “I was very excited about
the innovation. I feel like the Modules were more scripted and
followed a recipe – do this and do this. And there wasn’t as
much innovation or creativity. [Expeditions] are exactly what they
should be. They are what NGSS is all about. There’s not any one
answer per se. There’s more than one way to reach a solution.”
Yorba Linda Middle School Teacher Matt Homstad listened
closely to what the pilot teachers were saying and, along with the
other middle school Pitsco lab teachers, made the switch prior
to the start of this school year. “I just jumped
in and started investigating and obviously
picked Rob’s brain and Mary’s brain, asking
them questions,” Homstad said. “I’ve talked a
lot with [Pitsco Education Program Designer]
Aubrey too. She’s been a tremendous help.”
BE PATIENT TRANSITIONING
McLeish had spent 15 years facilitating Modules before he
was asked to pilot test the Expeditions program. This switch to
a new framework, new content, and a focus on the engineering
design process required a shifting of mental gears.
“When Expeditions came in, I forgot that you have to give it
time to make it a part of your program,” he said, adding that the
way students embraced the new program and the chance to
create their own solutions to problems was all the evidence he
needed to see. “The kids love the creativity that is involved with
it. They make improvements in all the Expeditions, so it’s always
fun to see how they do that and the creativity that’s involved.”
Homstad, meanwhile, explained that the transition from
Modules to Expeditions was relatively easier than a learning
curve he had faced previously. “I felt a little overwhelmed in the
beginning of the Modules a couple years ago when I first came in.
That was definitely a lot harder than the transition to Expeditions.”
CREATIVITY AND DEEPER CONTENT
Every Expedition begins with an Essential Question that
serves as the students’ focal point throughout the 10 to 15
class periods it takes to complete the work.
“It gives it a real-world component,” Homstad said.
“Definitely, having that Essential Question makes it open
ended with more than one solution. There’s no right or wrong
answer. A lot of what they’re doing is observation. They’re just
interpreting and they’re asking questions of each other.”
Chapluk, who like Homstad is a certified
science teacher, appreciates the way
Expeditions align with the requirements
of NGSS. “It’s more depth and not as much
breadth,” she said. “Let’s focus on this and
let’s dive really really deep, and let’s do the
whole engineering design cycle. . . . Let’s
go ahead and design it, test it, and then if
it’s not good enough, let’s go back and fix
it and make it better. That’s really what science is about – not
memorizing a bunch of facts.”
MAJOR DIFFERENCES FROM MODULES
While Modules and Expeditions are both built to develop
essential employability skills through hands-on, experiential
learning, they are different in other ways, most notably the more
flexible grading and implementation options for Expeditions.
Each student completes a detailed logbook while experiencing
an Expedition, which is in addition to online assessments tracked
through the Synergy ITC® learning management system.
“I let them use the logbook on the test. I encourage them
to write notes all the time,” Homstad said. “It’s a great piece
of evidence of learning, especially when they’re going home
a little discouraged after the posttest, but they have these
logbooks that are full of observation and hypothesis.”
Teachers also have a choice for content delivery – rotational
(student pairs work on a diverse set of different topics
throughout the lab) or whole class (all student pairs work on a
single topic at the same time). Or, there’s the option to switch
between rotational and whole-class Expeditions.
Chapluk is taking this hybrid approach this spring after a
year and a half of strictly rotational delivery. She looks forward
to having the flexibility to interject additional content or
examples to the entire class when students are all at the same
point within the Expedition.
Homstad, however, prefers to stick with a rotational
approach for his 18 different Expeditions that have up to 36
students focused on a wide variety of STEM topics, from Ahead
of the Game to Urban Wind Farm.