Beginning the Journey to Creating and E-STEM School - Part 2

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In part one of this series there was an examination of the history, core principles, and general overview of both STEM and E-STEM curricular practices.

Beginning my work at an E-STEM school was an exciting opportunity that I was ready to take on in addition to my new role as a reading interventionist.  The task of fully understanding where I fit into this new school with little to no knowledge of E-STEM was overwhelming, but since my role as a reading interventionist didn’t directly connect with the E-STEM curriculum, I was able to adapt when I felt comfortable.  I quickly realized no one was going to teach me how to incorporate E-STEM into my curriculum.  I had to take the initiative.  At professional development days, and curricular and team meetings, there was a lot of verbiage I was unfamiliar with: “InSciEd Out”, “Green Ribbon School”, “Field Studies”, “Dodge days”, “engineering design process”, “ask, imagine, plan, create, improve”.  There were posters for LiveGreen club, Marine Team, and Lego Robotics clubs.  This all looked great, but how was it all incorporated and what was my place in it all?  

I decided to start small. I reached out to one of the science teachers and requested to get a “critter” for my 6th grade reading class.  I originally imagined a fish tank, but was pleasantly surprised by the new classroom pet, Ozzy the bearded dragon.  Ozzy was a hit.  I tried to think of ways to include the environmental perspective into my reading class.  We kept data on how much he ate, what temperatures and bulbs would create the most active environment, and how often he pooped.  The classroom collection of E-STEM books was sparse so I requested funding from my principal to add books about bearded dragons, reptiles, habitats, and global warming.  We were having so much fun and all were intrigued with the new lizard so I reached out to a local breeder to see if they would be willing to donate another lizard.  Our classroom adopted Miss Prickles and we were able to compare measurements of her growth over time to Ozzy’s growth.  We compared data of how much each lizard ate and even determined personality characteristics between the two.  

Using the following the engineering model for our school, we: 

Asked questions

  • Why is Ozzy so lazy?
  • What happens if we change the wattage to the bulb?
  • Where do we find the hottest part of the tank?

Imagined 

  • What would happen if we put the lizards together (Ozzy would eat Miss Prickles! Eeek!)
  • What the perfect home for the lizards would be 

Made a plan

  • for optimal warmth and lighting, 75 watt bulbs increased activity compared to 50 watt bulbs

Created 

  • a new space for them to live (we came up with a larger tank, more rocks for basking, a place for them to hide)

Last, we improved

  • we moved the tank to more “social” zones in the class to engage the lizards and added UVB bulbs to their tanks which increased activity

Once we completed the engineering cycle, students chose to write either an argumentative text or an informational text (according to the 6th grade common core writing benchmarks) regarding what was learned.  Most students chose to write an informative text about bearded dragons using graphs, charts, headings, pictures with captions, definitions, and relevant facts.  A few students chose to write a persuasive text stating their claim, giving relevant evidence with accurate and credible resources.  It was a struggle for those students, as well as myself, as it was their first experience trying to persuade their audience.  It wasn’t perfect, and the quality of work varied, but sometimes learning is messy and often the process is more important than the end product.  Making mistakes is how we learn.     

One of the most unique characteristics of the E-STEM curriculum at our middle school is the level of depth that goes into environmental projects.  We maintain partnerships with the local University, the local nature center within our school district boundaries, as well as an environmental camp our students travel to each year.  All of these partnerships have programs both at our school and offsite that include employees, volunteers, and yearlong curriculum.  An example of this would be the connection with the local nature center.  There is a monthly field trip that all 5th graders attend.  At these field trips students are expected to study bees, prairies, renewable vs. nonrenewable energy and build a shelter.  All of this connects back to the big question of “How do the products we use daily impact the earth?” 

Despite uncertainty early on I've found balance as a reading interventionist teaching inside the ESTEM curriculum, and basically I just needed to dive in and experiment. One of the observations our teachers continue to make is that the education of all of this is important and we are aware of the harmful impact humans have on the environment. The biggest struggle is in answering how do we turn all that education into thoughtful action?


Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Laura Baker