Lakeland Treats Science as the Backbone of Elementary Education Instead of an Afterthought #IDstem @uidaho

I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation about an iSTEM from Excellence program at last week’s University of Idaho STEM Innovations conference in Boise.  In this program elementary students in Lakeland School District (Rathdrum Idaho) are participating in an exciting and engrossing new way to integrate science into their elementary school years.  As Idaho has increased it’s math and English instruction time to combat low scores in the era of No Child Left Behind other subjects have been left out with Idaho elementary schools averaging just 2 hours of science activities each week which puts us in the bottom five when compared to other states. *  The Lakeland District, thanks to a grant from the Micron Foundation and assistance from the University of Idaho, is working with teachers to design grade level plans that incorporate math and English (reading/writing) into a science centered curriculum.  This inverts the classroom so that science is now a central component instead of getting squeezed in after teaching English and math for specific time blocks every day.

The new method being introduced by Jill Halsted, Lakeland’s Program Director of the iSTEM from Excellence program, is putting the focus on increasing the excitement and engagement of students through experiential learning.  In this case the district is taking advantage of one of the resources they have in abundance, water.  With help from Jim Ekins of the University of Idaho’s Extension Water Education program the iSTEM from Excellence program is first developing a fourth grade curriculum where students learn about their watershed.

iSTEM from Excellence from Sarah Halsted on Vimeo.

The program ties educational goals into the NextGen science standards and then also identifies which Common Core math and English standard can be met with each activity.  To design the curriculum and to help the teachers transition to the new methodology, the curriculum is first developed as an after-school activity.   Six teachers received a stipend to spend their first year facilitating the after-school activities and then starting in their second year they will integrate the curriculum in their regular classroom.  The after-school program works as a lengthy professional development lab for the teacher, grounding them in the experiential process and procedures.

To enhance the parents participation, the district also developed a web site,  just for them that kept them informed of the activities in the after-school program and provided links to additional Bill Nye the science guy videos and other websites for family discussion. First year results have parents highly rating the after-school program and indicating that it makes them more interested in having their children pursue college degrees.


*  What Is the Impact of Decline in Science Instructional Time in Elementary School?

 *  Choices,Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era


For a bit more background here is the presentation abstract from the STEM Innovations Conference –

Lakeland School District iSTEM from Excellence

Jim Ekins, University of Idaho; Sarah Halsted, Lakeland School District 
Lakeland School District and University of Idaho Extension Water Education program successfully submitted a Micron STEM Education Research Initiative Pilot Project proposal. The project entails four prongs: professional teacher development and sustained job-embedded support in NextGen- and CC- tied STEM content and inquiry-based learning pedagogies; after school programming for 4-6th grade students; development of online parent resources; and developing a support network with STEM professionals as a form of community-wide STEM education. Research is designed to assess whether the content and skills are retained by teachers over time, and to capture teachers’ attitudes and confidence levels regarding NextGen standards, CC ELA and math standards.
The end goal is to increase student capability and desire to complete STEM degrees or certifications and to become engaged thinkers, invested citizens and holistic problem solvers. The parent support provided on the student/parent website engages them with links to animations, videos, interactive websites, and content taught in-class, so that parents are co-learners with their students. 
Longitudinal survey design consists of four survey instruments. First is identical to Micron parent survey given to district parents; second survey given anonymously to all K-12 teachers District-wide; third online survey was given anonymously to 3rd – 6th grade teachers District-wide; fourth survey given only to iSTEM professional development course participants as pre-, post-, and dual delayed-post content retention tests. Parents are re-surveyed at years end, to capture changes in attitudes about STEM ed. Preliminary data analysis indicates an average of 41% increase in teacher content knowledge (range = 21 – 60% increase) in cohort teachers as assessed in the teacher cohort assessment survey. Parent surveys indicate strong initial approval of the program and desire for their student to complete a college/post-graduate degree. 
Next steps include continued program operation and completion of survey series and student, parent, and teacher assessments of the program. Two NSF grants were written (DRK-12 and AISL) to continue the program into the next 3-5 years. Expansion plans into the Coeur d’Alene School District’s Fernan Elementary are under way. An iSTEM Summer Institute Strand is planned for Coeur d’Alene for Summer 2014, under the heading “A Walk in the Watershed” based on the fourth grade thematic arc developed for iSTEM from Excellence.