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STEM It Now project boosts science teaching and learning

Lying on a beach has its benefits; however, 22 elementary-level teacher-leaders from Southeast Washington instead spent a week of their summer vacation walking in the shoes of a scientist. They will bring their summer “field” experience with researchers into the classroom, and more than 550 students will have a richer learning experience because of their teachers’ innovative endeavors.

Working side-by-side with six Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) botanists, geologists, environmental scientists, and wildlife biologists, they entered the “field” together in order to deepen their understanding of the nature of science.

Making observations, designing investigations, collecting samples, analyzing data, and arguing from evidence—these teachers were fully immersed in the real work of a scientist. Mid-Columbia STEM Education Collaboratory members, Educational Service District 123 and PNNL, worked with teachers from 13 elementary schools representing one private school and five public school districts, all members of the Collaboratory. These teachers participated in the first cohort of the newly launched STEM-It Now project.

STEM-It Now is a research project that involves collecting, analyzing and integrating (or mixing) quantitative and qualitative research (and data) in a single study. Called a mixed-methods research project, STEM-It Now will collect data on students’ change in understanding of the basic concepts embedded in a science unit of study through a pre- and post-assessment. It will also be looking for changes in teachers’ confidence and attitudes toward teaching science and the impact of this partnership on the scientists who participate.

The teachers worked with STEM education experts from the ESD 123 (Georgia Boatman, Regional Science Coordinator) and PNNL (Peggy Willcuts, Sr. STEM Consultant, Office of STEM Education) this summer understanding the Washington State Science Learning Standards before and after working with the scientists.

STEM-It Now continues during the school year in an after-school professional learning model. The teachers will work in teams to connect the Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Disciplinary Core Ideas of the Standards to the science curriculum they currently teach.

Throughout the school year, the teachers will design, pilot test in their classrooms, and revise the adaptations and enhancements to their curricula. These modifications will be disseminated for others to use via the STEM-It Now web page.

STEM-It Now builds on prior research projects and will serve as a validation study of a model of effective integrated STEM professional learning for elementary teachers in alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Battelle provided “seed” grant funding to the Collaboratory and ESD 123 for this exciting project which is marked by extensive collaboration.