How to Build and Sustain a Culture of STEM Teaching and Learning: The Right Professional Learning and Leadership Can Support Real-World Experiences in the Classroom

District Administration, January 2015 | Go to article overview

How to Build and Sustain a Culture of STEM Teaching and Learning: The Right Professional Learning and Leadership Can Support Real-World Experiences in the Classroom


A District Administration Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on October 8, 2014

Using community engagement, professional development, custom curricula and digital resources, the leaders of Oak Ridge Schools in Tennessee hope to transform the district into a recognized leader in STEM education. The emphasis is on a growth in instruction, with the hopes that the learning environment will become one of critical thinking, problem-solving, higher-order thinking and inquiry to arrive at creative solutions. This web seminar featured Oak Ridge's superintendent, who discussed his district's plan and the role the partnership with Discovery Education will play in the successful transformation.

Bruce Borchers: Yes, we have to focus on standards. Yes, we have to assess what students are learning. But we also have to have real focus on helping students obtain a career pathway.

Last year we embarked on developing our seven keys to college and career readiness. Number 7 asks that all students participate in either AP coursework, dual enrollment, industry certification or military preparation before graduation.

Because of our size we're able to embed STEM instruction and resources in every single building at every single level--Pre-K through 12. That's a fairly daunting task, but we're well on our way to making it happen. We couldn't think of anybody more appropriate to help us on this journey than Discovery Education. We could not be doing what we're doing without their assistance.

We are using their Techbooks and their streaming, but the professional development pieces are at the heart of this initiative. STEM coaching is a unique way for us to make a dent in changing our teaching practices. We have over 400 teachers in our district, and over 50 are engaging in intense professional development and coaching with the help of Discovery Education. It's having an amazing impact. It's opening doors to classrooms, opening doors to thoughts and lesson plans that can be used and shared. We have seen a huge uptick in our use of the Techbook, especially at the elementary and middle school level, which is very exciting for us.

Why are we focusing on STEM? We want every one of our students to be prepared for a career that is actually going to exist when they leave us. I tell my staff we've been a good district. We continue to be a good district. And none of this new information makes yesterday wrong. But now with new information, all this does is make tomorrow better.

Cindy Moss: STEM is not something you buy. It's not something you do once a week on Friday when everything else is finished. It's not something you do once a year as a special day. It's a culture.

STEM learners need to be encouraged to be innovators. That means we need to let them ask questions that matter to them. We need to help them figure out how to use different sources. We need them to know how to bring different texts and different experiences together. We need to help them figure out the most effective and efficient way to work with other people, and how to communicate when they arrive at a conclusion.

We also feel that trans-disciplinary is the way to go. When working, people don't say, "Well, from 9 to 9:45 I'm going to do math. And then from 9:45 to 10:30 I'll do communication and literacy." In the real world, you use all of the curriculum together, all of the content that you possess, as well as your skills, to solve problems.

But before any of this can happen, our teachers must become STEM teachers. We all know that teachers were not trained that way. So we come in to partner with your district to create a shared STEM vision. Your STEM industry stakeholders, your educators, your parents, your kids-- everyone needs to be able to verbalize that STEM vision and understand why it's so important. …

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