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STEM Branches Out at Stewart

Teachers Take the Lead on New Programs

Experience is the best of teachers, and with a full year of STEM success under their belts, Stewart Elementary teachers are ready to embrace a stronger leadership role. “The most satisfying professional experience that I have ever had was watching our staff grow into the STEM program last year,” says Principal Greg Egnor. “This time a year ago, I was taking the lead in developing STEM programs. But now the staff has bought in, they’re engaged with our STEM school. They’ve taught the Engineering is Elementary curriculum enough that they are the real experts, not me.”

Developed by the Boston Museum of Science, the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum was introduced during the second semester last year. It promotes critical thinking and problem solving through hands-on, inquiry-based learning. Last year, Stewart supported EiE with TEC time initiatives where students worked collaboratively on various engineering challenges. TEC is an acronym for “Teaching Engineering to Children.”

TEC time initiatives revolve around design challenges where students tackle open-ended tasks without the benefit of teacher instruction. The intent is to immerse students in engineering processes that require critical thinking. Design challenges will be administered across the curriculum at Stewart this year, and teachers will archive ideas for activities and share resources for all teachers to use. “Our goal in this transformational process is to continue upgrading our STEM curriculum,” says Mr. Egnor. “Science is about engaging in processes. We’re teaching kids to think. And when they learn how to think, they can achieve anything.”

Stewart has developed an advisory committee that will take a collaborative approach to developing sustainable best practices for STEM education. One of the committee’s recommendations that will be implemented this year is an instructional model that allows teachers to work in “pods” of three. The new model enables teachers to specialize in the instruction of certain areas of the curriculum, while still maintaining the ability to teach science and to integrate the engineering & design process in instruction across the curriculum.

Stewart Elementary will also introduce a new robotics component this year. All students will take part in 12-15 different robotics units throughout the year where they will build and program LEGO MINDSTORM robots to accomplish various challenges. An elementary-level Science Olympiad program has also been proposed for 2012-13. Science teachers will drive the program, with funding coming from the PTO and potential outside grant sources. All Stewart Elementary students will participate in Science Olympiad.

The school also plans to introduce a Girls STEM program this year under the direction of science teacher Robin Bennis. Stewart teachers became intrigued with the idea after a contingent attended a STEM professional development conference in Virginia last February. One of the goals of the program is to create a culture where STEM careers – particularly those in the engineering sector – are viewed more favorably by talented female students.

Stewart also plans to develop a more robust parent education program this year to help fourth and fifth grade parents better understand the philosophy, programs, and practices associated with STEM education. The district is exploring the possibility of partnering with the Carnegie Science Center to develop parent education initiatives.

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