This year, K–5 teachers from the Baltimore City (Maryland) Public Schools went from thinking they couldn’t teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and their students couldn’t learn it to expressing confidence in their skills and in their students’ abilities. This sea change resulted from an Elementary STEM Teacher Clinic held by STEM Master Teachers for teachers from struggling elementary schools with many high-poverty students and a predominantly African American population. The clinic provided 130 teachers from 22 schools with hands-on professional development during the summer and also with equipment, supplies, and books from the NSTA Picture-Perfect Science Lessons book collection, which contains standards-based science content and ready-to-teach lessons.
This morning in New Orleans, as part of the Urban Science Education Leadership (USEL) session, presenters from Baltimore City Public Schools described the clinic and how it transformed the teachers. One key to its success was “every teacher had a coach…having that coach is the most critical component,” said presenter Katya Denisova. When the teachers returned to school in the fall, they had the coach available in their school to help them operate software and equipment and answer their questions. Most of these teachers “had not been exposed to teaching rigorous STEM,” she pointed out. By the end of the clinic, however, their self-assessments showed they greatly increased their knowledge of and skills in scientific inquiry.
Presenter Linda Evans declared, “How great is it to see the kids actually touching things and doing things [in class]!” She said the curriculum was based on Common Core state standards, “infusing literature and using [Picture-Perfect Science Lessons] as the anchor” to “push in STEM, touch on all those content areas.”
Adren Kornegay of Baltimore’s Garrett Heights Elementary Middle School said the curriculum “hit all four of the types of science,” and engaged students as young as kindergarteners in engineering design challenges. Kindergarteners developed a recycling program; second graders designed habitats for hermit crabs and worms; fifth graders created wind turbines. Terrell Davis of Montebello Elementary Junior Academy said even the fifth graders enjoyed the curriculum’s picture books, which helped them “relate to the [STEM] concepts.”
Then the presenters gave the attendees some supplies and turned them loose to explore a motion-and-force activity related to the book Sheep in a Jeep. Groups of three teachers created ramps and rolled a tiny plastic sheep in a plastic jeep down them, then measured how far the sheep traveled. Just as their students would do, they varied the heights and lengths of the ramps and tried using sandpaper to see how it would affect the jeep’s motion. This “inquiry allows students to think for themselves,” observed presenter Evelyn Tolliver. Her students “connected all the ramps and were rolling cars across the classroom,” she said, smiling.
Denisova mentioned that the attendees and other K–5 teachers around the country could take advantage of the clinic’s curriculum, even though they won’t be in the next cohort. “We want you to be STEM advocates,” said Evans. “A lot of our elementary teachers are not comfortable with the content…They really do need support.”