By Guest Blogger Felicia Frantz
Felicia Frantz is a computer science and business teacher at Alameda International Jr/Sr. High School. She is one of 300 teachers certified by Rasberry Pi in the United States and has been teaching at Alameda International for 4 years. Here she shares how she and her colleagues started a successful STEM program that has caught the attention of many, including 9News. Big thanks to Felicia for sharing her amazing expertise and experience!
About ten months ago my principal, Susie Van Scoyk, had submitted for a Title IV grant being offered offered through the district. Me and four of my coworkers were designated as the design team (think The Breakfast Club but much cooler). We were tasked with creating a STEM program, initially for 7th and 8th grade, but our hope was to be able to quickly expand it in to 9th - 12th grade as well.
We were nervous but excited over the opportunities and possibilities this grant afforded our students, and, although each of us had experience with one or multiple STEM focus subjects, we were not sure what exactly a “STEM” program would look like at Alameda International. There were so many options and we felt truly overwhelmed.
The grant consisted of $8,000 to spend on resources and $1,500 for professional development. In order to receive our grant we had to complete a training through the Choice Programming Department which would guide us in designing our program and spending our grant money. After a day of studying the concepts of project based learning and attempting to align it with the International Baccalaureate MYP Design Cycle, we had an idea that we wanted a lab or something that would give as many students and teachers access to the resources as possible, but we still could not visualize what exactly “STEM” was as a program or what this would look like at Alameda.
One of the members of our team, our DTL Dorina Miller, suggested we check out the ideaLab at the Denver Central Library. She had modeled several elements in her redesigned library makerspace after their area. We decided to check it out and were instantly enamoured. We decided we wanted to completely mirror the ideaLab in one of our classrooms. We also decided we would have the lab open before and after school so students could have access to come in and create and design at will. One other thing we decided to do, in order to help encourage the use of STEM in non-STEM classrooms was to offer the space to teachers to use for their classes.
Despite our decision on how to spend the grant, we felt like we were still missing some key elements to drive the idea of STEM at Alameda. As a team and as individuals we tried attending trainings and workshops over the summer, but could not find what we were looking for. We brought back great ideas that would definitely contribute to the enhancement of our program, such as industry contacts, ideas for authentic assessment panels, and the desire to build our own R.A.F.T., but we still felt like something was missing.
When we returned to school we were excited about the new journey we were about to embark upon. We were a newly minted department, in IB language we became the Design Department. Our course offerings had tripled and we had numerous sections being offered from 7-12 grade, including computer science, pre-engineering, imagination by design, to 9-12th grade robotics, computer graphics, and audio/visual production. Despite these wonderful offerings, we were still unsure how to bring STEM and the IB Design cycle into non-STEM classes. This concern plagued me more as I had been the author of our proposal and the IDEA Lab was under my care.
However, as people wandered by my room and as I shared out the resources we were collecting in my room a wonderful thing happened. The teachers started identifying ways in which they could use the resources with their students. An English teacher started talking about how she could have the students actually weave one of the textiles talked about in a book they read. The drama teacher started talking about his students using the sewing machines to create costumes or the resources to create props. The science teachers started talking about using augmented reality to allow the students to bring certain concepts to life, such as the muscular, vascular, and skeletal systems. And a geography teacher wanted to use virtual reality to take her students on field trips of geographical features.
On the outside these probably look just like forms of substitution and adaptation from the SAMR model, but in all honesty these are the examples of STEM we had been looking for all along. By merely sharing the potential resources with our peers, on their own they were able to identify a problem or challenge they had been facing in their classes, in many cases how to make something like literature or reading hands on, tangible, and engaging. From there, they were able to brainstorm ideas on how they could use the resources they now had access to to help solve that problem, as a result, they began to make a plan on how they could incorporate that experience into their lessons. Eventually they will get the chance to reflect on the experience and modify it where necessary.
In time, they will feel comfortable enough with the design cycle to begin letting the students identify their own problems or challenges and developing their own solutions. Because this is really what STEM is. It is not a set curriculum. It is not technology or special set of manipulatives. What STEM is, is teachers digging through recycling boxes looking for resources which students could upcycle into something else. It is providing students and teachers access to resources, skills, and a safe environment where they are free to identify potential problems based on their experiences, where they feel safe and empowered to brainstorm ideas and create solutions to those problems, to design them with guidance when they need it, to fail when things do not go just right (or celebrate the successes when things do go right), and are given the freedom and opportunity to reflect on the experience and what they learned, so that they feel empowered to go out and try again.
Postscript: As I was in the process of writing this post, our school had learned it had been selected by 9News at their first “CoolSchool” of the year because of the cool things we have going on here at Alameda, in particular the addition of our STEM program and that two of our middle school Society for Hispanic Engineer Jr. teams qualified to compete at the Technology Student Associations’ TEAMS competition in Atlanta this past June. 9News came an interviewed some of our STEM teachers and then also held a pep rally to help us celebrate. You can check out the story and the video segments at 9News Cool Schools: Alameda International
If you're interested in developing STEM programs or pathways at your school, contact Heather.Waldron.jeffco.k12.co.us, STEM Pathway Designer for Jeffco Public Schools.