Anderson Valley High School (“AVHS”) is one of six high schools in Mendocino County selected earlier this year by Sonoma State University (“SSU”) to receive (a) professional development training for teachers using the STEM program and (b) support in creating the new STEM curriculum. As such AVHS will participate in SSU’s five-year Learning by Making: STEM Success for Mendocino County program. The three million dollar federal master grant which funds SSU is one of only 18 such grants awarded by the US Department of Education.
The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The STEM program is an innovative means for science instruction which SSU has created in order to provide two integrated high school science courses, each a year long. The University of California (“UC”) will accept STEM courses as science electives which satisfy UC’s “a-g” certification requirements. STEM graduates will therefore be able to enroll directly in first tier university science classes without need for further prerequisite work.
In cooperation with the Learning by Making Group at SSU, AVHS will develop and implement the STEM curriculum during the next three school years. STEM course activities will be sophisticated technologically and will emphasize hands-on experimental work. The courses will entail interdisciplinary study of biology, environmental sciences (such as geology, soil, weather, oceans and atmosphere), chemistry and physics.
In this context “hands-on” means instruction primarily by means of conducting scientific experiments designed by the students themselves as opposed to instruction based almost exclusively on lectures and textbook work. The STEM program will enhance and enrich student capacities in the four subjects it covers and serve a student population which historically has been less responsive to and has fared less well in classes which rely predominantly on lectures and textbook work.
Development of the STEM program, including refinement of the work station equipment, will occur during the 2014-2015 school year. AVHS teachers and the directors of the Learning by Making at SSU will collaborate in producing the curriculum and identifying and assembling the lab station equipment (hardware and software) which the STEM program requires. Instruction in biological and environmental sciences will commence for the junior year class during the 2015-2016 school year. Instruction in chemistry and physics will commence for the senior class during the 2016-2017 school year.
Courses in the STEM curriculum will satisfy Next Generation Science Standards (“NGSS”) which will benefit all students. The NGSS program is intended to educate students in science and engineering and to provide foundational knowledge at the high school level for students who will become the nation’s future scientists, engineers, technologists and technicians. The NGSS program aims to realize its goals by teaching (i) scientific and engineering practices in combination, (ii) crosscutting concepts (concepts applied across all domains of science) and (iii) core ideas in each discipline. Teachers will infuse the project-based learning elements of the STEM curriculum into all science and math classes at AVHS so that STEM principles operate pervasively and not only in STEM elective courses. STEM equipment will likewise be available for all AVHS math and science courses.
The STEM courses will also incorporate Common Core State Standards (“CCSS”) now adopted by 43 States. The CCSS in mathematics focus on two main areas of development: mathematical content areas and mathematical practices. Mathematical content constitutes the nuts and bolts of mathematics: the algorithms, rules and laws that govern the ways in which mathematics work. The mathematical practices focus more on how to do math and how to apply mathematics to real-world problems.
Compared to earlier sets of state standards, the Common Core Math Standards provide greater focus on depth as opposed to breadth. AVHS began implementation of the CCSS Math standards during the 2013-2014 school year. Full implementation will occur during the 2014-2015 school year. During the 2013-2014 school year students took the new Smarter Balanced State tests for the first time, which is a more rigorous and robust computer-based examination that has now superseded “fill in the bubble” types of examination. In the classroom there will be a much greater emphasis on mathematical reasoning and complex problem solving as opposed to simply finding the “right” answer. Students will investigate complex real-world problems that involve much more data collection and statistical analysis than in previous courses.
The STEM program at AVHS will focus on a curriculum and on professional development among science teachers, math teachers, and program support personnel working collaboratively to achieve the following goals:
• To involve students in the use of computational thinking and focus on real world problem solving.
• To develop collaborative teacher and student constructed solutions to real problems (as opposed to teacher-driven solutions to constructed problems), for example, a teacher might proceed as follows:
• The teacher asks the class what conducts heat better, copper metal or stainless steel. The teacher knows the answer (and anyone could 'google' the problem!) but in class students will come up with an experiment to test heat conduction and then to measure the conductive properties of copper and steel. The exercise will generate further questions: in what context? through convection? What if the metals are containers holding hot water? What if they are left in the sun? There could be a whole classroom of different experiments designed to test student's own individual hypotheses. Such approaches to learning differ significantly from traditional instruction where a teacher tells students the answer and then puts the initial question on a test.
• The Boonville Space Program began with a simple goal: to send a weather balloon up to high altitudes to record data and images. Jim Snyder, the teacher who initiated the project, says he had no idea how to proceed going into the project, for he had never done it before. The students and Jim researched the problem together and it has been a teacher-student collaboration ever since. Most of the time Jim has no answers for the questions which students taking part in the Boonville Space Program generate. Teacher and students do research and conduct experiments together.
• To involve students in the use of circuitry and computer coding language to run sensor-based experiments.
• To employ simulations and modeling within the curriculum.
• To follow and connect Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Mathematics Standards
• To teach students, in the spirit of the foregoing examples, to construct and design their own experiments in making scientific measurements which are relevant to the future of the planet and the national economy such as solar energy, ecosystems, and climate change, scientific concepts that not only are interesting inherently but also immediately relevant for contemporary life.
Two AVHS science teachers, Jim Snyder and Kim Jenderseck, attended a one week workshop in late June, 2014 after school was out. They learned how to use and apply STEM cross-disciplinary standards. Jim and Kim will guide STEM course activities which are technologically sophisticated and emphasize hands-on experimental work. Under Jim’s and Kim’s tutelage, students will, for example, delve into electronics and work with data collection equipment to perform experiments.
STEM workstation equipment will arrive in phases. The first delivery will consist of 10 lab stations and the associated equipment. Subsequent deliveries will include an array of additional lab stations and a broad range of electronics components, data collection equipment and materials. Two students will share each of the first 10 lab stations of STEM equipment. The fundraising effort currently underway aims to cover the cost of 10 additional lab stations so that within two years the High School will have 20 STEM lab stations. Then each student will have his or her own individual unit.
STEM education and project-based learning represents a crucial and indispensable shift in American secondary education which should help to bring about the future success of our students in the United States job market. The United States is slipping behind its international competitors because other countries provide better education in science and the United States has an increasing shortage of high school graduates who are qualified to become the innovators of the future. The primary purpose behind the Department of Education i3 Grant was to improve and enhance scientific training in the United States. The STEM program resulted from the i3 grant which SSU obtained. The STEM curriculum at AVHS will offer students an education that will give them rigorous grounding in science and mathematics which will both help them succeed in future academic pursuits and also teach them how to become innovators and problem solvers so that they may meet the economic and technological challenges in contemporary job markets.
Two local volunteers have undertaken to raise the $32,000 necessary for ten additional lab stations for the STEM program. The effort is one time only. If the fundraising goal is met, STEM funding will be complete. Fundraising letters went out beginning on July 15th. Any excess will be used to initiate a principal’s discretionary fund at AVHS to support non-recurrent individual student needs. The high school has never had such a fund. Anyone wishing to contribute should send a check made payable to AVUSD for STEM and mail the check to: AVHS STEM Project; Anderson Valley Unified School District; Attn: Sheila Leighton, PO Box 457, Boonville, CA 95415-0457
All donations to AVUSD are fully tax-deductible.
The new principal at AVHS, Michelle Hutchins is providing firm, enthusiastic, competent and highly professional and welcome leadership. Teachers like Jim Snyder and Kim Jenderseck have joined her in a common collegial effort to raise academic expectations and motivate students to higher achievements in the humanities as well as in the sciences. STEM programs will lift science teaching to a new level.