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STEM Expeditions® yield statistically significant results

Friday Institute report cites MAP scores 20 percent higher than those of control group

Published January 5, 2018
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Asked to explain how their students’ science test scores could be statistically significantly higher than those of their peers, two Pitsco STEM Expeditions® pilot program teachers provided nearly identical responses.

Students who learn by doing as part of the engaging engineering design process built into every Expedition, the teachers said, better retain what they learn and understand the content more fully, naturally resulting in higher science test scores.

Teacher Michelle Smith at Tucker Creek Middle School in Havelock, NC, saw her sixth- and seventh-grade Expeditions students score 20.1 percent higher on the 2016-17 Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) science test than a control group did at a nearby middle school.

Likewise, eighth graders at Pittsburg (KS) Community Middle School who completed the Expeditions as part of a blended science program showed a significant difference in growth in MAP science and reading than did the virtual comparison group.

These statistically significant results at the two schools were reported in December 2017 by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University’s College of Education. According to the Friday Institute’s executive summary in the Pitsco Education 2016-17 Pilot Study Report, “Students in these analysis clusters tended to show more academic growth in science when compared to their peers in a comparison group or when compared to the national median.”

Smith was excited to hear about her students’ MAP science scores but not surprised at the stellar results. “I think the results are directly related to the amount of student engagement with the content,” she said. “Students know from the beginning of the Expeditions that they will be using the scientific principles they are taught to solve the lesson Essential Question, which is an engineering design challenge. Because they know that the information will be immediately valuable to them in designing their solution, they pay more attention and get more involved from the very start.”

When students pay more attention and become immersed in their activities, improved retention naturally occurs, said PCMS STEM Expeditions teacher Caleb Boulware. Not only did his students outperform the virtual comparison group, but they also far exceeded the goal of 100 percent growth on MAP performance with an average growth rate of 178 percent among all the school’s eighth graders during the course of the school year.

“What shocked me was a lot of times when I used to give a test to the kids they’d pass it, but if you gave it two weeks later they forgot it,” Boulware said. “With the Expeditions, the way they’re doing things hands on, the fact of doing it, building it, designing something from start to finish, seeing it get done, and then interpreting it and pulling it into everyday life, that’s how to make it relevant. . . . I could give them a posttest and go into another Expedition and come back a month later and give the same posttest, and they still know it.”

Boulware and PCMS’s other eighth-grade science teacher taught an equal amount of whole-class STEM Expeditions and traditional physical science instruction, always with the aim of meeting national standards through their combined approach.

Back in North Carolina, Smith touted the “effective teaching components” found in the STEM Expeditions framework. “There is video instruction, interactive learning activities, demonstration and practice, designing, creating, testing, analyzing, and improving. Students can work with partners, small groups, or even individually. I am a firm believer that in order to provide opportunities for all students to be successful, you have to present them with many opportunities to interact with and master the material.”

Smith and Boulware had the benefit of experiencing Pitsco’s Modules program prior to using whole-class Expeditions, and both are excited to now have “the best of both worlds.”

“With several different Module topics going at the same time, I felt like I was out of touch with my students’ learning,” Smith explained. “STEM Expeditions have given me all of the great lessons, activities and resources, instructional videos, and engaging topics of the STEM Modules, and they have allowed me to get back in tune with how my students are learning and developing.”

“A female student came in to my eighth-grade class complaining about not feeling well. I asked her why she just didn’t stay home. The answer I received almost made me cry and I’ve heard it over and over (with Pitsco labs). My student told me, ‘I wanted to come to this class today – I really like it.’ I’ve shared this story with all my administrators. If this program keeps kids in school, I’m all about it!”

– Jacqueline Thompson, STEM lab teacher, Bertie Middle School, Bertie County, North Carolina

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