New Grant Infuses Science, Math Teaching
Moore County Schools is the state’s lone recipient of a $2 million grant to improve the teaching of science and math to students.
The grant, administered by the Mebane Foundation, has resulted in the opportunity for Moore County students to enhance their learning experience with specialized study.
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative was awarded last year, but the school system is beginning the three-year program this year.
“This past summer we hired three master teachers, three beginning teachers, a student teacher and one instructional technology teacher to support the STEM model,” said Associate Superintendent of Instructional Design and Innovation Kathy Kennedy.
“The STEM team now serves as a resource to classroom teachers, and assists the instructors in designing lessons infused with the STEM initiative. I believe it is a wonderful thing that will result in a greater opportunity for learning among the students.”
Kennedy said the application process for the STEM teachers resulted in a “great pool” of applicants.
“We interviewed a number of teachers and ended up with a team that works very well together,” Kennedy said. “The goal is to present lessons that are realistic and meaningful for the kids, and as a result the STEM-infused classes tend to be interactive and energetic experiences for the students.”
Montana native Willow Alston is one of three master STEM teachers working with Moore County students. She is one of two STEM instructors assigned to Pinecrest High School.
“A lot of our work is cross curriculum, and when we are not planning lessons we are in the classrooms assisting the teachers,” said Alston, who recently completed a curriculum and leadership development program at N.C. State as a class of 2012 Kenan Fellow.
“I really enjoy the experience of exploring creativity in the lesson plans, and I believe the students are benefiting as well. They seem engaged in the process and are learning the ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork and good communication skills that are necessary to succeed. They work as a team in making decisions, sharing ideas and coming to a consensus. By employing cooperative learning, we’ve found that pretty much all of the lessons have been of great benefit to the students.”
The STEM approach employs “inquiry learning,” a process in which progress is assessed by how well students develop experimental and analytical skills rather than how much knowledge they possess.
Math teacher Karen Ray, of Pinecrest, said that having STEM-infused lessons to supplement her classes has been “wonderful.”
“The classes are a little bit different from what the students have experienced before,” said Ray, who teaches a combination of algebra I and II, geometry and statistics at the high school.
“In a recent unit on exponential functions, the STEM teachers led an inquiry-based lab with my students in which they looked at a real-life application in a real- world context. The subject was the spread of an infectious disease, and the experience offered them the opportunity to consider the hypothetical situation using open- ended questions and brainstorming. They worked in groups of four, and came to realize that what began as a math-based lesson also involved other STEM functions such as science and the use of technology to solve problems.”
Tenth-grade student Kiana Durante is a member of Ray’s class.
“The lab on exponential functions was fun because it related well to what was being studied in class,” she said. “I’m an outgoing person, and I enjoyed interacting with the other students in coming up with solutions to the problems presented in the lesson.”
Durante said she is now considering a career that includes STEM components.
“When I entered high school I wanted to go in a different direction, but that has changed. I now think that I’d like to concentrate on a career involving math with a little bit of science included,” she said.
In a previous interview, Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne called the decision to award the grant to Moore County Schools an “exciting time,” adding that both teachers and students will benefit from the process.
“We feel that Moore County and its school system are the right fit for this innovative professional and career preparation model,” he said. “With pressure on our teachers to meet a new set of core standards, this model comes at a time when they need more individualized support, especially with respect to their own professional development.
“We believe supporting teachers in the classroom will produce a more robust learning environment for our students and ultimately give them a greater opportunity to succeed in life.”
The Mebane Foundation hired Dr. Linda Bost to be its lead consultant to work with teachers and administrators in the school system to plan and implement the program. A former associate superintendent with the Davie County school system, she was instrumental in designing and implementing the STEM infusion model there.
“The STEM approach is really about teaching students how to get and process information,” Bost said. “With studies showing that more than 66 percent of all future careers will be STEM-based, from transportation to maintenance jobs to the arts, it makes sense to employ this inquiry-based methodology to engage students. They can apply this method of learning to their future careers or to any aspect of their lives.”
Bost said Moore County school officials and community leaders were “fantastic” in bringing STEM to the area.
“When it came down to it, Moore County won out over everyone,” she said.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or jlentz@thepilot. com.
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