Revised STEM Business Plan for San Juan Island School District

San Juan Island School District STEM BUSINESS PLAN

Version 1.2

Endorsed by SJISD School Board

January 29, 2014

Preface

The STEM Business Plan is intended to be a living document that will evolve over time as resources, funding, technology and new ideas become available.

Our hope is to secure funding for at least the first 5 years of this plan (please see the corresponding STEM Business Plan Budget document for details).  The ultimate goal is to establish an endowment which would ensure the long term viability of integrating STEM into the K-12 classrooms of the San Juan Island School District.  We believe introducing our students to technology at the earliest stages of learning and continuing through graduation will not only produce young women and men who are ready excel at the next level of education and fill the well paying high tech jobs of the 21st century, but also produce leaders capable of solving the complex social issues we face as a society.

The STEM writing team invites you to read and comment on the document.  Please keep in mind this plan is very tactical and intended to set the foundation for more advanced curriculum and programs in the future.  As in any cultural change initiative, one must walk before they run.  This plan sets the basis for all future teaching and learning at the highest level.  We look forward to your comments.

Comments may be directed to:

STEM Writing Team

c/o SJISD Superintendent

285 Blair Ave

P.O. Box 458

Friday Harbor, WA 98250

360/378-4133

rthomson@sjisd.wednet.edu

 

STEM Business Plan

STEM meets the need to educate each and every student in the literacy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The pervasive influence of these fields in every workplace, every home, and in civic life requires a working and voting citizenry able to solve the complex social, environmental, and technical problems we face.

Contents

Preface

STEM Business Plan

Executive Summary

1.0 STEM Chair

1.1 STEM Chair Position

1.2 STEM in Every Building and Classroom

1.3 STEM Chair Administrative Responsibilities

2.0 Curricular Changes

2.1 Extra Curricular

2.2 Curricular Content

2.3 Credit

2.4 Cross Crediting

2.5 Joint Classes

3.0 Training

4.0 Program Management

5.0 Long-Term Institutional Changes

5.1 Revised Credit Policies

5.2 Assessment and Evaluation

5.3 Curriculum

5.4 Partnerships

6.0 Conclusions


Executive Summary

The San Juan Island School District (SJISD) is committed to implementing a five year plan for STEM instruction, K-12.  STEM programs address the well-established incongruity between American public schools and the American technological workplace and increasingly technical civic sphere.  The District commitment has been recognized by significant grants and awards within the public sector. Yet fully implementing this change with the exclusive use of public funds will be accomplished with a time line extending beyond ten years.  In consideration for the needs of our currently enrolled students, this proposal offers a compressed time-line for implementation funded through the generosity of donors equally committed to STEM education.  The proposal funds proven strategies using methodologies which have been successfully applied by high enrollment districts able to afford a full time development staff.  The following needs are addressed:

  • Bringing STEM to Every Student – Through the immediate support of clubs and extracurricular classes, and later by careful integration into the school day, every student will be exposed to STEM concepts and processes and provided ample support to extend learning.
  • STEM Class Development and Delivery – By identifying and cloning the best existing STEM curriculum and classes, SJISD STEM classes will be effective and sound.

We intend that STEM be a part of every student’s education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade. This will be accomplished via clubs, competitions, and classes. The classes we envision are most appropriate for the middle school and the high school.  At the elementary school, we intend to help every teacher include STEM elements into their instructional day. This will require training which will be accomplished in a variety of innovative ways, as described in the Training, Section 3.0.

The District Superintendent will be responsible for overall Program Management of the District’s STEM initiative.  The Superintendent will monitor and adjust implementation to insure budget, time-lines and objectives are met and accountability is maintained.

To insure that these changes become a permanent part of school culture, the Board must review and update relevant Board policies in support of the STEM initiative.

At the end of the five year program, SJISD will have in place a variety of STEM classes in the high school and middle school, and will have implemented STEM curricula in the elementary school via clubs, specialty classes, and increased STEM content in core classes.

 

This plan is leading edge and expensive.  Yet it relies on strategies, tactics and systems of accountability already proven by innovative schools nationwide.  It begins the critical process of bringing the industrial school system of 1900 into alignment with the digital workplace of this century.  For our students, and for our Republic, there is no more important work.

 

1.0 STEM Chair

1.1 STEM Chair Position

The STEM Chair is a foundational element of our initiative. As we have stated, our goal is to embed STEM in every building and every classroom, and to educate in every classroom at the highest level of critical thinking skills.  The Chair is responsible for both of these objectives.

The Chair will build upon existing initiatives and accomplishments to continue to establish SJISD as a premiere STEM District. The Chair will add momentum to the existing programs which have been funded by a STEM Lighthouse grant and a capital funds grant from the State of Washington to remodel the STEM Building. The Chair will expand the STEM class offerings, will promote STEM to all students, and will be the instructor for every STEM class.

The Chair will develop and teach the following classes:

SY   2014-2015 21st   Century Design (STEM Foundations l) In   the first year, this class will be open to all students, grades 9-12. In   future years, the class will be designed for freshman. The class involves the   design, manufacture, and testing of specialized items, like:

  •   The   slowest vehicle
  •   The   strongest beam
  •   The   fastest CO2 car
  •   The   most powerful wind turbine

The   class will also reverse engineer a complex item like a robotic claw. The   reversed engineered item must then be manufactured, assembled, and work   properly.

SY   2015-2016 STEM   Foundations ll Continuation   of STEM Foundations l with more emphasis on reverse engineering complex   items. Designed for sophomores.
SY   2015-2016 Digital   Images and Their STEM Applications How   to use digital media, especially images, in STEM projects. Includes   instruction in, and use of, Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design (desktop   publishing), and Dreamweaver (web design).
SY   2016-2017 Intro   to Tech (MS) Survey   course to introduce middle school students to technology. Includes CAD/CAM,   robotics, videography, digital images, and web design.
SY   2016-2017 Digital   Animation Applications to STEM Develop   animation skills and apply them in the creation of animated shorts that   promote activities to the student body. Shown school-wide during Advisories.   Prepare shorts for local and regional competition.

 

SY   2016-2017 Film   Applications to STEM Develop   videography skills and apply them in the creation of video shorts that promote   activities to the student body. Shown school-wide during Advisories. Prepare   shorts for local and regional competition. Broadcast on local cable channel   and post on FHHS YouTube channel.
SY   2017-2018 Advanced   Robotics and STEM Foundations lll A   continuation of the existing class, Robotics 1. Development of programming   skills and application to robot management. Use of underwater, terrestrial,   and aerial robots. Always includes a competitive event. Designed for juniors.
SY   2018-2019 STEM   Foundations lV via Internships A   senior level STEM class for advanced, mature students. Involves placement at   a local CAD/CAM facility and involvement in the design, manufacture, quality   control, and costs of product development.

All of these classes will involve project-based learning. The projects will never have a ‘right’ answer, but will instead require an exploration of options, alternatives, and innovations via an inquiry-based approach. The instructors will teach through the process of guiding the students in inquiry and discovery. The students’ questions will most often result in another question from the instructor, not an answer. The students will quickly acquire the skills of independent learners.  Key in this process will be critical self-assessment which requires students to issue and defend a self-determined grade to the educator(s) with grading authority. The skill of critical self-assessment is perhaps the most important skill for the modern workplace that schools are currently not providing.

STEM students will demonstrate to staff and other students the value of the inquiry-based approach via student demonstrations, student presentations, and student exhibits.

1.2 STEM in Every Building and Classroom

We have already established Robotics and Automation as a district-wide STEM theme. The Chair will build on this by training staff for delivery of STEM content, creating and improving content for all classes, and building student proficiency and enthusiasm for STEM.

A starting point for these activities will be the Chair’s formation and supervision of a new high school student organization, the Technology Student Association (TSA). This club, part of a nationally recognized and well respected student leadership organization, will be the focal point for outreach to other students, promotion of STEM in all buildings, and training of staff (see below).

The Chair and TSA students will support and help promote the Robotics Clubs in every building by assisting the Club’s Advisors, creating promotional media, making presentations in advisories or in assemblies, and providing technical expertise. They will also work toward integrating other related activities into the robotics mission. For example, they will assist the Programming Club in the Club’s support of robotics and they will seek ways for our automation classes (otherwise known as Computer Integrated Manufacturing) to participate in the construction of robots. The Chair and TSA students will also ensure that every club participates in at least one ‘high stakes’ competitive event each year. These events make the club’s work relevant and increase the opportunity for publicity and promotion.

In a related activity, the Chair and his TSA students will promote, organize, and supervise an annual STEM Expo in each building. The Expo will evolve from the existing Science Fairs in the middle school and elementary school. At the high school, the Expo will be built upon Exhibitions night, the evening event where student work and projects are presented to the community.

The Chair and TSA students will continually examine the content of existing and proposed STEM classes to ensure the highest level of rigor is present while meeting appropriate industry standards. One way this will be accomplished is by pushing equipment and curricula down to lower grades from above. For example, next year our high school programming club will be working with Visual Basic.  Once we are successful in the development of curricular material and student achievement, we will create a middle school programming club to focus on Visual Basic while the high school club moves on to C++ language. We will also migrate equipment down to younger students; we currently have a CNC mill suitable for a middle school manufacturing class.

As our STEM clubs mature the Chair will explore creating a class to support the club’s mission. For example, the Programming Club will become a Programming Class when there are at least 20 committed and proficient participating students.

Finally, and vital to our long term goals, the Chair and TSA students will create a training program for all teachers. Starting with the elementary school, they will:

  • Expand and increase the rigor of robotics in all classes, grades K-6
  • Assist in creating curricula for other grades around use of the 6th grade outdoor biology lab
  • Explore use of a STEM theme, such as Island Sustainability, as a vehicle for delivery of additional STEM content

For the first two years these efforts will require at least 25% of the Chair’s time. The Chair will have a daily presence at FHES, will participate in staff meetings, will work with specific teachers to build STEM content, and will build a TSA capacity to continue these efforts after two years. As specific STEM units are identified, the Chair will develop the unit, purchase the supplies and equipment, and assist in the delivery of the unit.

After two years certain technical responsibilities for building STEM content at FHES begins to shift from the Chair to the TSA students. These students will:

  • Assist with all afterschool STEM clubs
  • Develop and deliver STEM content for school assemblies
  • Prepare and assemble STEM promotional displays
  • Help organize an annual STEM Fair
  • Work with individual teachers after school on STEM curricular issues
  • Deliver presentations to staff meetings

In addition, certain highly qualified TSA students may take an Internship class, wherein they would report to FHES every day to support STEM as needed.

The Chair and the building principals will identify STEM Teacher Leaders who would take a lead in assisting all other teachers in STEM integration. The Teacher Leaders would be supported by a stipend. The Chair, Teacher Leaders, and principals will also identify training packages and speakers who could further this initiative. These will be deployed as appropriate.

To reach the top of the pyramid requires the highest level of critical thinking and problem solving skills. The Chair will imbed this environment in his/her own classes and also in other classes through training instructors/teachers how to recreate content for a STEM classroom.

1.3 STEM Chair Administrative Responsibilities

The Chair has significant responsibilities outside the classrooms.  They include:

  • Public Outreach/Communication
  • Monthly press releases
  • Maintenance of a website, Facebook page, and/or blogs
  • Presentations/Demonstrations at the Knowledge Bowl, the County Fair, and other large public events
  • Creation and maintenance of a running, five year STEM Master Plan
  • Coordination with Skagit Valley College for jointly offered classes
  • Exploration of additional sources of funding including state and federal grants, corporate grants, and donations
    • Exploration of significant fundraising opportunities, like manufacturing and selling a unique product
  • An annual presentation to the donor groups followed by a written report detailing accomplishments and next year goals including anticipated budget requirements
  • Development of ‘shoulder classes’, a small group of students studying a STEM topic independently, but shouldered against another class – for example Technical Writing shouldered against an English class
  • Mining the vast human resources available in our community and a constant openness to including these resources in our educational programs

2.0 Curricular Changes

The Cultural Change described in the Executive Summary requires administrative support (described in the Section: Program Management) and training of staff (described in the Section: Training).  This section will describe the third leg that supports the overall cultural change – curricular changes. Curriculum is the content being taught, but it also relates to the credit earned.  We believe the latter is ready for reform and the following provides structure for this change.

2.1 Extra Curricular

We use the extra curricular option to explore student interest in new classes. We currently have extracurricular robotics clubs in every building and the intent is, as interest grows, the clubs will convert to classes. Similarly, we are launching a computer programming club in SY 2013-14 for which we have a similar plan. Other STEM-related clubs will follow. Candidate clubs include film making, animation, video game design, and 3D art. The challenge with clubs, however, is their limited entry; students with other after school activities (such as sports) often cannot participate. This is why we seek to move the activity to the school day as soon as practicable.

2.2 Curricular Content

As mentioned elsewhere, inquiry-based education is our overarching goal. This will require a significant change in the content and the delivery. Training for the adjusted delivery is presented in the Section: Training. The STEM Chair will be responsible for assisting the STEM Teacher Leaders in adjusting his/her content to inquiry-based, as described in the Section: STEM Chair

2.3 Credit

STEM dictates there should be substantially more flexibility in how students earn credit. The idea that students only earn credit after there is a record they sat in the class for 90 hours is outdated and under legislative scrutiny.  In concert with coming regulatory changes we will develop a credit system that honors their accomplishments and proven, measured attainments.

Under such a system, our STEM students may be allowed to challenge for STEM credit by taking a test, submitting best work, or presenting an oral defense.  A defense panel, much like a thesis defense in graduate school, would be assembled to view the evidence and make a decision. The goal should NOT to be to keep a student in school for 12 years, but to help them move on and move up as quickly as their interest and mastery of learning allow.

A large hurdle will be the creation of a school funding scheme not reliant on seat time.  San Juan School District will adhere to such new practices as developed by the state that protect our funding while implementing alternative paths to credit.

Advanced Students should have the ability (if they desire) to create their own, custom classes that meet their personal goals, as done with independent study at the college level.  If national trends continue to fruition, , our students will have an individualized education plan that incorporates classrooms, online instruction, independent study, internships, and custom classes. Maintaining high standards, a panel of teachers, administrators, and students would review and approve or reject independent study and custom classes..

These ideas would initially be implemented inside the STEM program but could, in concert with other districts, , be expanded and implemented in basic education classes.

2.4 Cross Crediting

As we develop STEM classes of increasing sophistication and depth, the STEM Chair will explore with other departments the concept of allowing the STEM classes to meet graduation requirements other than elective.  For example, a CAD class, perhaps with some added independent study requirements, could meet a math graduation requirement.  Depending on its structure and content, a  manufacturing CNC class could possibly meet a science credit. This ‘cross crediting’ might also require the cross credit students to do some additional study and pass some additional testing. Again, the goal is knowledge and skill, not seat time. This will be implemented slowly and carefully in a fully collaborative environment with other staff. Our models will be based on successful cross crediting experience in other districts. The state is requiring all districts to develop cross crediting policies and procedures.

2.5 Joint Classes

Sometimes called team teaching, this concept would allow two classes to work together on joint projects. This would be a valuable addition to our inquiry-based approach in that it represents the beginning of a truly interdisciplinary approach to education which much more closely mimics the modern collaborative workplace. For example, the calculus and physics classes could jointly pursue the application of centroids to sailboat design. They could even build models and test them in our wind tunnel.

3.0 Training

The national push for STEM training will drive the transformational change required to bring the classroom experience of the student in line with the contemporary technology rich cooperative workplace and technologically complex public sphere. Through training, STEM is embedded in the methodologies of every teacher, teacher evaluator, and paraprofessional.  The change in how learning is delivered will be profound and essential to reaching our goals.

Initially, the training envisioned for this program is limited to STEM staff and the staff at the elementary school, as described under the section STEM Chair. We do, however, intend to build a training program in concert with our state and local districts that will expand after this five year program to enable all staff to incorporate STEM instructional principles in their classes.

4.0 Program Management

The long term viability, quality and sustainability of any organization is rooted in its ability to continually change, grow and reinvent –  to stay congruent with its changing external environment.  In the case of STEM, schools and school regulators must adapt educational processes to meet the needs of the current marketplace as this will insure our graduates have a fair opportunity to achieve a well-paid and professionally satisfying career.  In this regard, everyone would agree moving to a STEM based curriculum is an imperative. But change is often hard and does not happen by itself. Nor can we shut down for a year and retool. So these changes will require the commitment of District’s board, administration and teaching staff and close attention to national and regional changes we will implement in parallel.  Imbedding long term program management and governance oversight into the STEM program will ensure the investments made in years 1 through 5 of the initiative will not be lost to due to a lack of root cause analysis, corrective action plans and best practice integration.  The two truest phrases ever uttered in support of program management are: 1) you get what you inspect, and 2) if you budget for it, you value it.

Overall Program Management of the STEM Initiative within SJISD will lie with the District’s Superintendent.  This individual will be held accountable to the District’s board on all aspects of the business plan/project plan.

Program Management of the STEM initiative will include, but not be limited to the following:

  • Public Outreach/Communication Plan – Apply various methods to educate all stakeholders including students, parents, community, business, government/legislative agencies
  • Educational Partnerships – Develop and grow both public and private partnership within the educational, business, and government/legislative communities at a local, regional, state and national level
  • Funding – Work to ensure all viable grants and funding avenues are explored to continue to support and grow the STEM program
  • Sustainability Planning – Develop and maintain Master STEM Strategic Plan
  • 5, 10, 15 year rolling plan
  • Develop survey/review processes to evaluate quality and effectiveness of training, curriculum and communication delivered to all stakeholders
  • Develop Root Cause Analysis/Corrective Action Plan reviews of successes and failures
  • Best Practice Integration – Import “Best Practices” in curriculum, training, technology through networking with mainland STEM programs on a regional, state and national level
  • Accountability/Program Guidance
  • Regular status reports/program reviews to the SJISD Board
  • Develop method to survey SJISD alumni on STEM curriculum skills in the post-graduation workplace and/or higher education
  • Ensure STEM integration into new teacher review process
  • Intellectual Property – Package curriculum, training and communication as SJISD intellectual property when appropriate

Long-term success and sustainability of STEM will be driven by the District’s Superintendent.  The STEM Chair, School Board, Principals and CTE Director will play significant supporting roles.  In the final analysis the District’s Superintendent will own STEM as a primary job responsibility.

Success and sustainability of the STEM program will be the result of a dynamic plan comprised of actionable tasks and measureable results guided by the proven program management mantra – plan, do, check, adjust.

5.0 Long-Term Institutional Changes

Institutional change is defined as assessment and modification of the controlling institutional documents and practices that direct our behaviors as citizens and professionals.  They include a wide variety of federal, state, and local constitutions, laws, policies, procedures, and practices.  While federal and state institutional changes to educational law and practice are critical to the success of the STEM initiative, the focus of this section will be the San Juan Island School District.

Our goal in this section is to outline a strategy for long term change. We imagine that, while this work would start immediately, it would not be fully implemented for at least five years.  Further, this document addresses only those policies and practices germane to the implementation of the business plan.  The budget impact of these policy and procedure changes will appear in other sections of this plan.  They are included here as a reference to the work the SJISD Board should do in support of the STEM initiative.

Our current school system has remained essentially unchanged since about 1907, and there is immense inertia to overcome in moving schools into the current century.  There is a strong impulse for successful reform initiatives to revert to the industrial school model when key people leave or funding disappears.

It is clear that formalizing the San Juan Island School District commitment to permanently implementing STEM and its associated high level learning is critical for the long term success of the initiative.  Through policy, STEM and its associated reforms will become part of the District identity and could only be abandoned though modification of Board policies and procedures in a public meeting.

Areas for policy and procedure modification include but are not limited to:

5.1 Revised Credit Policies

  • Board policies in support of the recent State directive to allow students to challenge high school classes for credit can be a significant tool in providing high school students time and space in their education for immersion in STEM learning.
  • Policies and procedures for expanded project based learning for credit will insure that this significant change will maintain the high standards and expectations at Friday Harbor High School.
  • Policies and procedures for cross disciplinary credit classes will allow innovative combinations of students and teachers which are impossible to implement at this time.
  • All such policies and procedures should take guidance from state regulators and incorporate model language as developed by agencies such as the Washington School Directors Association.
    • Policies should define the relationship between STEM learning and TPEP (see appendix for information on TPEP evaluations).  How will student accountability be maintained K-12 when learning through high level challenges?  Specifically, Critical Student Self-Assessment must be used when there are many possible outcomes to the learning.
    • Policies should direct administrative staff to clearly define criteria for teachers to meet when being evaluated while teaching high level STEM lessons.  Specifically, what should the classroom look like, sound like, and what student and teacher behaviors should be seen?

5.2 Assessment and Evaluation

The board should examine procedures and support for using existing state provisions regarding certification of teachers as highly qualified, especially National Board Certification in STEM fields.

5.3 Curriculum

  • Policies and procedures should be developed to allow teams of educators to propose and have considered innovative modifications of times and spaces for STEM learning.  While maintaining student accountability for critical concepts and processes, these innovations should result in a school space that looks and feels more like the modern work place with students simultaneously involved in a broad range of disciplines in the presence of teachers from different fields and organized in work teams that resemble those in the modern workplace.
  • Policies and procedures should be written to support project based learning K-12.
  • The board should direct staff to include STEM learning in current efforts to align the K-12 curriculum.
  • Work based learning, currently used by only about 10% of high school students, should be promoted by board resolutions affirming the importance of work based learning for students committed to professional specialization.

5.4 Partnerships

As it has been noted throughout this document, partnerships are an important component to the success the STEM initiative.  To support and foster external partnerships the District’s board should:

  • Develop policies to allow the hiring, through personal services contracts, of island based STEM professionals as guest teachers under the direct supervision of certificated staff.
  • Evaluate the utility of interagency agreements with other educational .institutions to maximize STEM opportunities for our students.
    • These would include but not be limited to Skagit Valley College and surrounding school districts.
    • Develop policies and procedures to define for island service clubs how to form permanent partnerships with the District in support of STEM.
    • Develop policies and procedures to define for island corporations how to form permanent partnerships with the District in support of STEM.
    • Support aggressive grant writing through the district budget.
    • Develop policies and procedures for implementing a strong public relations initiative for STEM and the District.

6.0 Conclusions

The need for increased STEM learning is clear and important for our students.  Washington State ranks at the top of all states in creation of STEM jobs.  Washington Schools rank near the bottom in creating STEM ready graduates.  This Business Plan outlines a way for San Juan Island School District to address this need in a prudent and proven way in parallel with other districts and in harmony with emerging new state regulations.

By seeking donor funding for either a fully endowed STEM Chairperson or a more modest five year funding of a STEM Chair, we insure that students currently in our schools will be able to receive these important skills prior to graduation.

For this second option of funding a STEM Chair only, additional funding would have to be secured by the end of the five year cycle, perhaps but not certainly through legislative action on increased school funding.  The legislative history for the last thirty years suggests strongly that a fully endowed STEM Chairperson is the best and most secure way to insure the investment is protected and these innovations are implemented, maintained, and improved.

Should no outside funding be secured, we will continue at a much slower pace, using existing staff and schedule adjustments to start with a limited set of classes.  As in the past, District officials would also work with local experts in STEM fields to secure special certification in order to allow additional offerings.  We could start an expanded program only after additional funding was secured through the public sector.

As these final charts shows, like minded donors in support of the STEM vision can know that their generosity will make a permanent positive impact on San Juan Island School District and more importantly, its graduates.

Opening STEM Building Offerings without stable external funding:

STEM   Center Classes  (without private   funding)
Remotely  Operated Vehicles
STEM   foundations l
HS   Robotics
Woodshop   Design and Assembly

Stable long term funding allows a rapid, full utilization of our new STEM building:

STEM   Center Classes  (with private funding)
Remotely   Operated Vehicles
STEM   foundations l, ll, lll, & V
Intro   to Tech l & ll (MS)
HS   & MS Robotics 

continued   pg. 17

STEM   Center Classes  (with private funding)

continued

Video Production
Web Design
Theory   & Maintenance of Gas/Diesel Engines
Marine   Architecture: Theory & Practice
The   Art of Manufacturing
Innovations   and Inventions
Animation and Game Design
Audio Production/Music Recording
Computer Programming
Biodiesel   Laboratory

STEM Draft Business Plan

A business plan moves a strategic plan toward tactical implementation.  Time-lines are set, expenditures listed and costs estimated.  This business plan was written by a three person committee listed on page one, and is a reasonable first approximation of the business plan that will be presented formally to the SJISD Board of Directors sometime in the next two months.  This plan will be owned by and under the exclusive control of the Board at that time. San Juan Island citizens (and Board members) are encouraged to read and comment on this plan with improvement in mind.  One may note that this plan is currently minimally funded -  The triple hits of reduced state funding, federal sequester, and reduced enrollment has significantly impacted the ability of the District to fund new initiatives such as STEM in a timely way. Using only public funds, full implementation will happen, but extend beyond ten years and be subject to the uncertainties currently inherent in any state funded program. A STEM endowment similar to those common in universities would provided funding for a timely implementation and immunity from the vagaries of the state legislature. One of the key purposes of this business plan is to allow potential private supporters of this endowment to understand exactly what their support will provide to the students of our island.  Should this business plan prove adequate , the San Juan Community Foundation has expressed interest in being a trusted bridge between potential donors and the Board.  The San Juan Island Schools Foundation has expressed a willingness to manage the endowment.  So, this business plan is clearly very important to the STEM effort.  It is critical that we collectively make it as focused and detailed as possible.  It should be clearly understood that this draft will be updated based on community and professional feedback. In fact, several important changes have already been made since version 1.0 was informally circulated some days ago. In this 1.2 version, all references to the Community Foundation have been eliminated to make it clear that the School Board is the exclusive owner of the plan (should they approve it at some point).  The language describing the job of the STEM Coordinator is now gender neutral, and last, the term “authentic self assessment” has been dropped in favor of “critical self assessment” and the term has a clear definition.  Now, more improvements are dependent on your feedback.  Thank you in advance for your participation. 

 

 

STEM BUSINESS PLAN

DRAFT

By:

Larry Wight, Director, CTE
Jack McKenna, School Director
June Arnold, Community Member

Contact Information:

Jack McKenna

Board Director, Position 5

gmcps@yahoo.com

378-1085

Larry Wight
Director, Career and Technical Education
lawrencewight@sjisd.wednet.edu
(360) 622-6586

8/15/13

STEM Business Plan – Draft 1.2
  STEM meets the need to educate each and every student in the literacy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The pervasive influence of these fields in every workplace, every home, and in civic life requires a working and voting citizenry able to solve the complex social, environmental, and technical problems we face.

TABLE OF CONTENTS – STEM Business Plan

Executive Summary

Section 1.0 – STEM Chair

Section 2.0 – Curricular Changes

Section 3.0 – Training

Section 4.0 – Program Management

Section 5.0 – Institutional Changes

Section 6.0  - Draft Budget

Executive Summary

The San Juan Island School District (SJISD) is committed to implementing a STEM curriculum K-12. STEM programs address the well-established incongruity between American public schools and the American technological workplace and increasingly technical civic sphere. The District commitment has been recognized by significant grants and awards within the public sector. Yet fully implementing this change with the exclusive use of public funds will be accomplished with a time line extending beyond ten years. In consideration for the needs of our currently enrolled students, this proposal offers a compressed time-line for implementation funded through the generosity of donors equally committed to STEM education. The proposal funds proven strategies using methodologies which have been successfully applied by high enrollment districts able to afford a full time development staff. The following needs are addressed:

  • Bringing STEM to Every Student – Through the immediate support of clubs and extracurricular classes, and later by careful integration into the school day, every student will learn STEM concepts and processes.
  • STEM Class Development and Delivery – By identifying and cloning the best existing STEM curriculum and classes, SJISD STEM classes will be effective and sound.
  • Curriculum Innovation – In addition to the clubs and classes noted above, this proposal calls for exploiting new opportunities provided by the State and SJISD Board to create credit paths that break out of the traditional seat time age/grade model. Designed to make school structure congruent with the modern technical workplace, these include but are not limited to allowing students to challenge class content for credit, cross disciplinary classrooms utilizing collaborative learning teams, contract credit, and extended time blocks. Through these innovations the critical role of the Arts and Humanities in a technical society will be powerfully integrated into STEM and emphasized. Technical leaders have appropriately noted that technology is neither good nor evil. Its value is dependent on how it is used and limited. Today’s children must be prepared to defend civil liberty and the quality of human life in an era of pervasive surveillance and digital algorithms of immense power. There has never been a more important era for students to be grounded in the Arts and Humanities, thus effective STEM programs are indistinguishable from effective Arts and Humanities programs.
  • Training – It is clear that the San Juan Island School District is highly successful by any traditional measure. Yet effective STEM lessons provide students with high level thinking challenges that cannot be accomplished through traditional lessons. This plan calls for educators to be trained in the techniques of collaborative learning, critical self-assessment, and other learning strategies employed by successful STEM educators. This training will be delivered peer to peer, via college level classes, and participation in regional STEM conferences. Further, District administrators will need to learn to recognize the attributes of effective STEM teachers to insure professional assessment supports accountability for STEM implementation.
  • STEM Program Management (STEM Chair) – Reporting directly to the Superintendent, the STEM Program Manager or Chair will monitor and adjust implementation to insure time-lines are met and accountability is maintained.
  • Institutional Change – To insure that these changes become a permanent part of school culture, the Board must review and update relevant Board policies in support of the STEM initiative

This plan is bold, expensive, and innovative. Yet it relies on strategies, tactics and systems of accountability already proven by innovative schools nationwide. It begins the critical process of bringing the industrial school system of 1900 into alignment with the digital workplace of this century. For our students, and for our Republic, there is no more important work.

1.0 STEM Chair

The STEM Chair is a foundational element of our initiative. As we have stated, our goal is to embed STEM in every building and every classroom, and to educate in every classroom at the highest level of critical thinking skills. The Chair is responsible for both of these objectives.

  1. STEM in Every Building and Classroom

We have already established Robotics and Automation as a district-wide STEM theme. The Chair will build on this by training staff for delivery of STEM content, creating and improving content for all classes, and building student proficiency and enthusiasm for STEM.

A starting point for these activities will be the formation of a new high school student organization, the Technology Student Association (TSA). This club, part of a nationally recognized and well respected student leadership organization, will be the focal point for outreach to other students, promotion of STEM in all buildings, and training of staff (see below).

The Chair and TSA students will support and help promote the Robotics Clubs in every building by assisting the Club’s Advisors, creating promotional media, making presentations in advisories or in assemblies, and providing technical expertise. They will also work toward integrating other related activities into the robotics mission. For example, they will assist the Programming Club in the Club’s support of robotics and they will seek ways for our automation classes (otherwise known as Computer Integrated Manufacturing) to participate in the construction of robots. The Chair and TSA students will also ensure that every club participates in at least one ‘high stakes’ competitive event each year. These events make the club’s work relevant and increase the opportunity for publicity and promotion.

In a related activity, the Chair and his TSA students will promote, organize, and supervise an annual STEM Expo in each building. The Expo will evolve from the existing Science Fairs in the middle school and elementary school. At the high school, the Expo will be built upon Exhibitions night, the evening event where student work and projects are presented to the community.

The Chair will continually examine the content of existing and proposed STEM classes to ensure the highest level of rigor is present while meeting appropriate industry standards. One way this will be accomplished is by pushing equipment and curricula down to lower grades from above. For example, next year our high school programming club will be working with Visual Basic. Once we are successful in the development of curricular material and student achievement, we will create a middle school programming club to focus on Visual Basic while the high school club moves on to C++ language. We will also migrate equipment down to younger students; we currently have a CNC mill suitable for a middle school manufacturing class.

As our STEM clubs mature the Chair will explore creating a class to support the club’s mission. For example, the Programming Club will become a Programming Class when there are at least 20 committed and proficient participating students.

Finally, and vital to our long term goals, the Chair and TSA students will create a training program for all teachers. Starting with the elementary school, they will

  • Expand and increase the rigor of robotics in all classes, grades K-6
  • Assist in creating curricula for other grades around use of the 6th grade outdoor biology lab
  • Explore use of a STEM Theme, Island Sustainability as a vehicle for delivery of additional STEM content
  • Creating additional STEM curricular packages for each class and grade. These would be delivered by the TSA students with the classroom teacher in observation. The TSA students would work with each teacher as long as necessary
  • The Chair and the building principal would identify a STEM Teacher Leader who would take a lead in assisting all other teachers in STEM integration. The Teacher Leader would be supported by a stipend
  • The Chair, Teacher Leader, and principal will also identify training packages and speakers who could further this initiative. These will be deployed as appropriate

1.2 Creating Learners with the Highest Levels of Critical Thinking Skills

To reach the top of the pyramid requires the highest level of critical thinking and problem solving skills. The Chair will imbed this environment in his/her own classes (below) and also in other classes through training instructors/teachers how to recreate content for a STEM classroom.

The Chair will develop and teach the following classes:

  • SY 2014-15 21st Century Design (STEM Foundations l)
  • SY 2015-16 STEM Foundations ll
  • SY 2016-17 Intro to Tech (MS)
  • SY 2017-18 Advanced Robotics and STEM Foundations lll
  • SY 2018-19 STEM Foundations lV via Internships

Each of these classes will involve project-based learning. The projects will never have a ‘right’ answer but will instead require an exploration of options, alternatives, and innovations via an inquiry-based approach. The Chair will teach through the process of guiding the students in inquiry and discovery. The students’ questions will most often result in another question from the Chair, not an answer. The students will quickly acquire the skills of independent learners. Key in this process will be critical self-assessment which requires students to issue and defend a self-determined grade to the educator(s) with grading authority. The skill of critical self-assessment is perhaps the most important skill for the modern workplace that schools are currently not providing.

This process will demonstrate to all staff and students the value of the inquiry-based approach via student demonstrations, student presentations, and student exhibits. The Chair’s students will visit each Advisory to personalize this interaction through presentation. By SY 2015-16 the Chair will start engaging specific teachers and coaching them in techniques to increase the level of inquiry.

In SY 2016-17 the Chair will coordinate the first Friday Harbor High School Sustainability Week. During this week the entire school addresses one issue vital to our Island’s sustainability. Topics include Food, Waste, Water, Transportation, Energy, and Housing. Using “Food” as an illustration, the school would address the art of food, the cost of food, the carbon footprint of food, the energetics of food, the mythology of food, the science of agriculture (including GMO crops), and the history of food (perhaps relating to our genetic makeup). On the last day there is a symposium of presentations and analyses. Eventually, as the quality of Sustainability Week grows, the results are published online with video and are also made available on our local cable channel.

The expectation is that inquiry-based learning becomes the norm in each classroom by SY 2017-18 because of the demonstrable success in the Chair’s classes and the success of Sustainability Week. To ensure this level of success, there will be substantial staff training each year; this is reported separately under the Section: Training. In addition, there will be administrative expectations of staff acceptance and accomplishments in these areas. These are covered in the Section: Institutional Change.

1.3 STEM Chair Administrative Responsibilities

The Chair has significant responsibilities outside the classrooms. They include:

  • Public Outreach/Communication
    • Monthly press releases
    • Maintenance of a website, Facebook page, and/or blogs
    • Presentations/demonstrations at the Knowledge Bowl, the County Fair, and other large public events
  • Creation and maintenance of a running, five year STEM Master Plan
  • Coordination with Skagit Valley College for jointly offered classes
  • Exploration of additional sources of funding including state and federal grants, corporate grants, and donations. Also exploration of significant fundraising opportunities, like manufacturing and selling a unique product
  • An annual presentation to the San Juan Island Community Foundation followed by a written report detailing accomplishments and next year goals including anticipated budget requirements
  • Development of ‘shoulder classes’, a small group of students studying a STEM topic independently, but shouldered against another class – for example Technical Writing shouldered against an English class
  • Mining the vast human resources available in our community and a constant openness to including these resources in our educational programs

2.0 Cultural Changes

The Cultural Change described in the Executive Summary requires administrative support (described in the Section: Program Management) and training of staff (described in the Section: Training). This section will describe the third leg that supports the overall cultural change – curricular changes. Curriculum is the content being taught, but it also relates to the credit earned. We believe the latter is ready for reform and the following provides structure for this change.

2.1 Extra Curricular

We use the extra curricular option to explore student interest in new classes. We currently have extracurricular robotics clubs in every building and the intent is, as interest grows, the clubs will convert to classes. Similarly, we are launching a computer programming club in SY 2013-14 for which we have a similar plan. Other STEM-related clubs will follow. Candidate clubs include film making, animation, video game design, and 3D art. The challenge with clubs, however, is their limited entry; students with other after school activities (such as sports) often cannot participate. This is why we seek to move the activity to the school day as soon as practicable.

2.2 Curricular Content

As mentioned elsewhere, high level thinking inquiry-based education is our overarching goal. This will require a significant change in the content and the delivery. Training for the adjusted delivery is presented in the Section: Training. The STEM Chair will be responsible for assisting the teachers in adjusting their content to inquiry-based, as described in the Section: STEM Chair

2.3 Credit

STEM dictates there should be substantially more flexibility in how students earn credit. The idea that students only earn credit after there is a record they sat in the class for 90 hours is so archaic that it can’t be defended. Instead, we will develop a credit system that honors their accomplishments and proven attainments.

  • Students should be allowed to challenge for credit by taking a test, submitting best work, or presenting an oral defense. A defense panel, much like a thesis defense in graduate school, would be assembled to view the evidence and make a decision. The goal should NOT to be to keep a student in school for 12 years but to help them move on and move up as quickly as possible. The fact that there are financial implications to a school district’s funding is unfortunate, but no excuse.
  • Students should have the ability (if they desire) to create their own, custom classes that meet their personal goals. Basically, each student should have an individualized education plan that incorporates classrooms, online instruction, internships, and custom classes. A panel of teachers, administrators, and students would review and approve these classes. Can you imagine how cool Senior Exhibitions could be?!

2.4 Cross Crediting

As we develop STEM classes of increasing sophistication and depth, the STEM Chair will explore with other departments the concept of allowing the STEM classes to meet graduation requirements other than elective. For example, a CAD class, perhaps with some added requirements, could meet a math graduation requirement. A manufacturing CNC class could possibly meet a science credit. This ‘cross crediting’ might also require the cross credit students to do some additional study and pass some additional testing. Again, the goal is knowledge and skill, not seat time.

2.5 Joint Classes

Sometimes called team teaching, this concept would allow two classes to work together on joint projects. This would be a valuable addition to our inquiry-based approach in that it represents the beginning of a truly interdisciplinary approach to education. For example, the calculus and physics classes could jointly pursue the application of centroids to sailboat design. They could even build models and test them in our wind tunnel.

3.0 Training

STEM Training will drive the transformational change required to bring the classroom experience of the student in line with the contemporary technology rich cooperative workplace and public sphere. Through training, STEM is embedded in the methodologies of every teacher, teacher evaluator, and paraprofessional. The change in how learning is delivered will be profound and essential to reaching our goals.

3.1 Technical Fluency

SJISD educators range from enthusiastic technology experts to hesitant beginners. We have a good and growing inventory of technical learning tools. In order for STEM learning to succeed, every educator must be confident in the use of the same technology their students will use. This includes understanding the basic function, troubleshooting, maintenance and safety.

3.2 STEM Methodology

A traditional methodology supports individual students working alone and silently in competition with fellow learners. A STEM methodology supports students working on learning products cooperatively in teams – sometimes in competition against other groups. A STEM lesson will be filled with the murmur of productive dialogue.

A traditional methodology supports learning through teacher centered delivery of content and processes and predetermined questions and outcomes. Student success is measured through performance on predetermined assessments with single correct answers. Assessment tools are often secure in that students do not know ahead of time exactly what the assessment will be. By its nature, traditional methodology cannot support or reward higher level thinking. STEM methodology supports student centered learning by engaging high level challenges to which multiple correct answers are possible. In a STEM lesson risk taking is valued. Students can, through critical self-assessment, outline what was learned and justify a high grade through a failed attempt at problem solving. Conversely, a team of students who are successful but cannot critically self-assess the concepts and processes synthesized and applied may find they have a lower grade.

Many SJISD educators will need significant support in learning how to lead a STEM lesson. Every teacher should know:

  • How to set up and manage learning groups of various sizes
  • How to teach students the roles and responsibilities of learning group members
  • How to manage a classroom in which students are talking to each other and freely moving while engaged in problem solving
  • How to lead students in reflection and critical self-assessment

3.3 STEM Teacher Evaluation

A teacher evaluator observing a STEM lesson will need to learn and apply a completely different rubric for excellent teaching. Traditional clinical evaluation calls for the evaluator to write in great detail the exact behavior of the teacher. Yet, on day two of a stellar STEM lesson, the teacher may spend almost all the time in silence, simply moving about monitoring the cooperative groups engaged in their work. At the same time, the student noise level, while less than a lunchroom will be more than a traditional lesson. Students will occasionally get out of their seats without permission and move about, checking with other groups or getting materials. By the standards of traditional clinical observation, this is a failing teacher not doing anything. A teacher evaluator in a STEM classroom will not be able to observe and assess discrete content delivery as STEM lessons are cross disciplinary. The evaluator will simultaneously observe students applying artistic values, math concepts, scientific processes, and historical lessons. Speaking, listening, writing, reading and calculating will be fluid and constant.

Teacher evaluators will need to learn how to assess a STEM lesson including:

  • How to focus on student engagement and performance rather than teacher behavior
  • How successful STEM classroom management skills allow the teacher to step back out of the way
  • How to engage the teacher in critical formative self-assessment of the STEM lesson
  • How a successful or deficient STEM teacher would be recorded in the state required paperwork

3.4 Delivery

Delivering training to SJISD staff will require application of multiple strategies:

  • Identification and utilization of in-house experts in tools of technology, cooperative learning and cross disciplinary teaching for peer to peer training
  • Use of outside experts in providing mandatory on-island training and providing attendees with clock hours or credit
  • Follow up through assessment to insure the new skills are being applied
  • Funding attendance at STEM regional professional conferences for all certificated staff

3.5 Timeline

During the initial five years, training costs will be high and then drop off significantly as all staff become fluent in STEM literacy. After the initial training is complete, needs will be reduced to supporting those new hires not already STEM fluent and funding attendance at the STEM conference in Wenatchee. The five year plan funds in each year:

  • Three certificated in house experts to train certificated and paraprofessional educators, to orient other district staff to the STEM initiative, and guide student to student cross age teaching and learning
  • A university level class for every certificated teacher every year covering methodology for cooperative learning, critical student self-assessment, high level project based learning, and strategies for performance based credit rather than seat time based credit
  • Time and support every year for district administrators to consult with proficient STEM administrators regarding professional assessment and accountability for STEM teachers
  • Funding every year for ten certificated staff to attend the annual Washington State STEM Conference in Wenatchee

4.0 Program Management

The long term viability, quality and sustainability of any organization is rooted in its ability to continually change, grow and reinvent- or in a single word adapt. In the case of STEM, we are asking our entire school district to adapt its educational processes to the current marketplace. Although to a person, everyone would agree moving to a STEM based curriculum is an imperative, change is often hard and does not happen by itself. These changes will require both the commitment of District’s board, administration and teaching staff. In many cases our teachers will not know how to make these changes on their own, nor will all implementations will go smoothly or yield the desired results. Imbedding long term program management oversight into the STEM program will ensure the investments made in years 1 through 5 of the initiative will not be lost to due to a lack of root cause analysis, corrective action plans and best practice integration. The two truest phrases ever uttered in support of program management are: 1) you get what you inspect, and 2) if you budget for it, you value it.

Overall Program Management of the STEM Initiative within SJISD will lie with the STEM Chair. This individual will be held accountable to both the District’s board and Superintendent on all aspects of the business plan/project plan. Beyond the very tactical steps of developing STEM curriculum/crediting, staff training and budget management – the STEM Chair will also be responsible for the following:

  • Public Outreach/Communication Plan – Apply various methods (print, demo, expo, web) to educate all stakeholders including students, parents, community, government/legislative agencies
  • Educational Partnerships – Develop and grow both public and private partnership within the educational, business, and government/legislative communities at a local, regional, state and national level
  • Funding – Work to ensure all viable grants and funding avenues are explored to continue to support and grow the STEM program
  • Sustainability Planning – Develop and maintain Master STEM Strategic Plan
    • 5, 10, 15 year rolling plan
    • Develop survey/review processes to evaluate quality and effectiveness of training, curriculum and communication delivered to all stakeholders
    • Develop Root Cause Analysis/Corrective Action Plan reviews of successes and failures
  • Best Practice Integration – Import “Best Practices” in curriculum, training, technology through networking with mainland STEM programs on a regional, state and national level
  • Accountability/Program Guidance
    • Regular status reports/program reviews to both SJISD Board
    • Develop method to survey SJISD alumni on STEM curriculum skills in the post-graduation workplace and/or higher education
    • Ensure STEM integration into new teacher review process
  • Intellectual Property – Package curriculum, training and communication as SJISD intellectual property when appropriate

Long-term success and sustainability of STEM will be driven by the STEM Chair and the District’s Superintendent. The School Board, Principals and CTE Director will play significant supporting roles. In the final analysis the District’s Superintendent will own STEM as a primary job responsibility.

The partnership between the SJISD and its community will be recognized via the program steering or oversight committee.

Success and sustainability of the STEM program will be the result of a dynamic plan comprised of actionable tasks and measureable results guided by the program management mantra – plan, do, check, adjust.

5.0 Institutional Changes in Support of STEM and Sustainability

Institutional change is defined as assessment and modification of the controlling institutional documents and practices that direct our behaviors as citizens and professionals. They include a wide variety of federal, state, and local constitutions, laws, policies, procedures, and practices. While federal and state institutional changes to educational law and practice are critical to the success of the STEM initiative, the focus of this document will be the San Juan Island School District. Further, this document addresses only those policies and practices germane to the implementation of the business plan. The budget impact of these policy and procedure changes will appear in other sections of this plan. They are included here as a reference to the work the SJISD Board should do in support of the STEM initiative.

Our current school system has remained essentially unchanged since about 1907, and there is immense inertia to overcome in moving schools into the current century. There is a strong impulse for successful reform initiatives to revert to the industrial school model when key people leave or funding disappears.

It is clear that formalizing the San Juan Island School District commitment to permanently implementing STEM and its associated high level learning is critical for the long term success of the initiative. Through policy, STEM and its associated reforms will become part of the District identity and could only be abandoned though modification of Board policies and procedures in a public meeting.

Areas for policy and procedure modification include but are not limited to:

  • Credit models
    • The recent State directive to allow students to challenge high school classes for credit can be a significant tool in providing high school students time and space in their education for immersion in STEM learning
    • Policies and procedures for expanded project based learning for credit will insure that this significant change will maintain the high standards and expectations at Friday Harbor High School
    • Policies and procedures for cross disciplinary credit classes will allow innovative combinations of students and teachers impossible to implement at this time
  • Assessment and Evaluation
    • Policies should define how student accountability will be maintained K-12 when learning through high level challenges. Specifically, Critical Student Self-Assessment must be used when there are many possible outcomes to the learning.
    • Policies should direct administrative staff to clearly define criteria for teachers to meet when being evaluated while teaching high level STEM lessons. Specifically, what should the classroom look like, sound like, and what student and teacher behaviors should be seen?
  • Policies should be developed to allow the hiring, through personal services contracts, of island based STEM professionals as guest teachers under the direct supervision of certificated staff.
  • The board should examine procedures and support for using existing state provisions regarding certification of teachers as highly qualified, especially National Board Certification in STEM fields.
  • Policies and procedures should be developed to allow teams of educators to propose and have considered innovative modifications of times and spaces for STEM learning. While maintaining student accountability for critical concepts and processes, these innovations should result in a school space that looks and feels more like the modern work place with students simultaneously involved in a broad range of disciplines in the presence of teachers from different fields and organized in work teams that resemble those in the modern workplace.
  • Policies and procedures should be written to support project based learning K-12.
  • The board should direct staff to include STEM learning in current efforts to align the K-12 curriculum.
  • Work based learning, currently used by only about 10% of high school students, should be promoted by board resolutions affirming the importance of work based learning for students committed to professional specialization.
  • The board should evaluate the utility of interagency agreements with other educational institutions to maximize STEM opportunities for our students. These would include but not be limited to Skagit Valley College and surrounding school districts.
  • The board should develop policies and procedures to define for island service clubs how to form permanent partnerships with the district in support of STEM.
  • The board should develop policies and procedures to define for island corporations how to form permanent partnerships with the district in support of STEM.
  • The board should support aggressive grant writing through the district budget.
  • The board should develop policies and procedures for implementing a strong public relations initiative for STEM and the district generally.

STEM Budget PDF

SJISD Wins STEM Lighthouse Grant

The San Juan Island School District has been named one of five STEM Lighthouse Districts by the State of Washington via a state wide competition.  The Lighthouse designation acknowledges that these districts have developed the best  STEM programs in the State. As a STEM Lighthouse, our mission will be to serve as a resource and example of best practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instruction to all other districts, especially small districts for which quality STEM programs are especially challenging.

School Board member Jack McKenna, author of the District STEM resolution commented, “While we have been recognized as one of the top districts in the nation, the fact is that even the best American schools continue to prepare graduates for yesterday.  Through the further development and implementation of STEM curriculum on San Juan Island we can begin to carefully move our teaching and learning in the right direction.”

Former engineer Larry Wight, STEM teacher and author of the successful application, continued, “Those of us that have been pushing for STEM here have been frustrated at the slow pace when we compare ourselves to larger districts with more resources.  But now, this award recognizes that among small districts, San Juan Island is actually a leader in STEM innovation and implementation.  It is simply harder in a small district to find the necessary resources. I am so grateful that Superintendent Thompson strongly encouraged me to write the proposal. The award affirms that our efforts are on the right track, and the grant will allow us to move forward without having to cut other worthwhile programs.”

The term STEM is shorthand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and was originally used by immigration officers to fast-track qualified foreign applicants for entry into the American workplace.  The term has now become a focus for educators, elected officials, industrialists, professional associations and unions intent on bringing the skills and knowledge of our graduates in line with the high paying technical jobs in the modern workplace.

One can arrange for a high interest STEM presentation to your group via this website or by calling the San Juan Island School District.

Why STEM Is Here To Stay

Career educators know that school reform plans come, fade out, and then come again.  They universally fail for several reasons:

  • Limited staff development
  • Inadequate temporary support
  • Adverse community reaction
  • Mobility of staff and students

Somewhat cynically, these initiatives have come to be called, “Buzzword of the Year.”  Educators tolerate them, thinking, “This too shall pass.” Then we get back to work teaching as we have since 1907.

STEM lessons, with their cross disciplinary structure (including the Arts), collaborative learning, and high level thinking requirements, are anything but traditional.

STEM middle school assignment: In your groups, examine this robotic arm and revese engineer it using materials at hand, CAD software and our laser mills.

The result, not a kit, built from scratch. (Edmonds School Disttrict)

STEM is a small but fundamental change to an institution that seems immovable. So, if STEM is going to succeed and stick, what assurance can be made to career educators (and parents for that matter) that this time it will be different?  Will there be ample ongoing training, continuing commitment or resources, and community outreach?  Can we be assured that when students and staff move to our district they will have been exposed to STEM learning?  Will STEM become a standard part of teacher training? Why invest time and money for something that is transitory?

The short answer is that there are irresistible forces at work in support of STEM which will provide affirmative answers to each of these questions. I hope to show in this post that STEM is the first step in a pervasive national movement – not a buzzword.

It will be constructive to examine the last time an irresistible movement shaped American education. After the Civil War, public education was best described as ramshackle, disconnected, unprofessional, and poorly managed.  By 1925, American public schools had transformed into a powerful, fully professional national institution dedicated to providing students a broad well-rounded education, a predisposition to succeed in the industrial workplace, and a better life. I think readers will see clear parallels between the historical industrial transition and the digital transition we currently face. Let’s go back to the time when the industrial revolution was really taking hold in America, and track the simultaneous transformation of American life and American schools.

By 1918 the number of single room schools nationwide had dropped to 196,037 and they would soon essentially disappear.

This had been the model for American schools for over a century. There was no notion of common curriculum, most teachers were not professionally educated or certified, attendance and enrollment was optional, and assessment was simple and varied.  Financial support was minimal and schools were often faith based. For a largely agrarian society, these schools met the challenges of their day.

Then America had to deal with steam engines, mass production, electricity, internal combustion engines, telegraphs, telephones, and radio.  The schools of the day were graduating students unable to cope with the expectations of the industrial workplace.  But it wasn’t just schools. The social and legal norms of the entire society were matched a world that no longer existed.

As I am sure you recall from your study of this era, living conditions in the cities and factories were often horrific.

With no notion of “childhood” as we have now defined it, children were set to work for pennies a day.

Agrarian American workers had no notion of the clock-centered punctuality which we now take for granted, and this, combined with social ills like pervasive drunkenness prevented industrialists from running efficient high quality factories.

1900 Tavern

With a lack of qualified American workers; industrialists took to hiring immigrants by the millions and training them to fill their needs. It was, as is said, an exciting time.

One of Henry Ford’s English classes for his imigrant workers.

There was wide consensus that something had to be done. Every aspect of society changed, not just schools.  But schools were a big part of the solution. The successful common school system of Massachusetts designed by Horace Mann during the 1830’s was replicated nationwide.   He believed that:

  • an ignorant public was a threat to the nation;
  • schools should be paid for and controlled by the public;
  • including children from all backgrounds would strengthen schools;
  • schools must support our common values but be non-sectarian;
  • students must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society;
  • education should be provided by highly qualified well paid, professional teachers.

Mann worked for more and better equipped school houses, longer school days and an extended school year, higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.

Trade unionists and other worker groups saw this model as a way of giving their children access to a better life. But leaders of industry also embraced the Horace Mann schools – not because of Mann’s high ideals, but because of their structure.

The Mann schools were highly organized using the Prussian military instructional model which emphasized punctuality, standardized massed produced instruction, and the completion of routine tasks as assigned.

This part of the model was embraced by the powerful industrialists of the time because they saw it as a way to inculcate American students with the routines of the factory.  They saw to it that the design and infrastructure of schools exactly mimicked the factories, including perfectly synchronized clocks.

Ford Model T assembly plant in Seattle.

The new Redmond Elementary, 1923

It is intentional that to this day, students move through a school the way a car moves through an assembly line.

In 1907, America needed workers who would:

  • not rock the boat
  • show up on time and work the full shift
  • complete routine tasks as assigned
  • Be a good family member and a good citizen

These are the core values of the current school model.  We have even criminalized lack of punctuality! Students who are routinely tardy end up in front of a judge. These are not the core values of the digital American workplace.  Only the last core value regarding citizenship and family remains, and even that – what it means to be a good citizen and parent – is being totally transformed by technology.  Just as at the start of the industrial age, today’s institutions are matched to a world that no longer exists – schools among them.

So, why will STEM stick?  Because a broad consensus, ranging from unions, families, political leaders, intellectuals, and corporate board members have come together in support of kicking public schools forward from 1907 to 2012.  More on this coalition will appear in later posts.

STEM, which started as a modest updating of Vocational Education curriculum and methodology, has become a test bed for the new way to do school – and it is practical. Today’s economy needs millions of STEM qualified graduates. In August of 2010 at the height of the recession, there were two hundred and fifty thousand high paying jobs in STEM fields going  begging for lack of qualified applicants! Hundreds of thousands more of our STEM workers are nearing retirement. Our school system is not providing graduates to fill these high paying jobs.  Instead these jobs are going to young men and women from other countries – hence the genesis of the acronym STEM by government workers approving visas.  Nationwide, industries, unions and political leaders are powerfully supporting STEM as a way to address this problem.

STEM has the feel of a catalytic chain reaction or a phase change.  I fear that public schools that do not get on board with STEM and the other changes that follow will experience the same fate as towns that were too far away from the rail lines in 1875.

To see that society is serious about changing schools, all one has to do is note the source of the money behind the current charter school initiative and listen to the frustration with schools expressed by charter supporters from all walks of life. The writing is on the wall, and this time we cannot revert to the Horace Mann paradigm.

The good news is that when educational methodology and content matches the digital world in which our students will live, we will have the full support we need. Implementing STEM is a reasonable first step to bring schools into the digital age.

Next time: The Amazing Truth about American Industry and its New Values.

STEM, STEAM or PSHATEEL?

STEM is not education speak.  It was and is a term used in immigration. STEM is a short hand term for the thousands and thousands of foreign workers our home based industries must import to fill these jobs. So it is a term that we as educators really do not control. We are not producing enough qualified candidates in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  By educators staying with the term STEM we send a message that we are serious about addressing this deficit. The term is about the deficit of qualified workers, not a statement about curriculum.

I argued to the School Board that we should continue to refer to this initiative as STEM rather than STEAM or PSHATEEL (Physical Education, Science, History, Arts, Technology, Engineering, Economics, and Language Arts).  The reasons are practical.

First, there is an emerging broad national consensus that this kind of learning is critical to our nation’s future, and the dialog is using the term STEM as its reference point.   Sticking with STEM will keep us congruent with the national initiative.  In this way our citizens who see or learn something about STEM through national media will understand that we are onboard.

Second, here on San Juan Island we will have to aggressively pursue outside funding.  Again, the term STEM is the term being used in the world of foundations and grants.

Having said all that, we also must make it absolutely clear that an effective STEM program must integrate the arts as full participants, and conversely, science and technology must become fully integrated elements in all subjects.

I understand the reason that the Arts community in and out of education is alarmed.  When the disastrous No Child Left Behind imposed narrow high stakes testing on schools, programs like music, visual and performing arts were universally scrapped by school districts in order to free up time and money to focus exclusively on the skill of passing a written test.  Now, STEM is seen as an effort that will take what few resources remain for the Arts and focus them on making dog walking robots.  I am suggesting that this is a misplaced fear. The Arts and Technology are actually allies in the effort to undo the caustic damage of No Child Left Behind.

When high stakes testing arrived, Vocational Education was already transforming into technical education but just like with the Arts, because programing a C.N.C. mill is not tested, thousands of these programs were also scrapped, one of which was ours.

The fact is that on the leading edge of Western Civilization, the Arts and Technology have always been fully integrated and that will not change.  It is Apple’s deeply entrenched commitment to artistic sensibilities that drove its growth from bankruptcy to dominance.   The “chips” are identical, the Art makes us relate. And, it is a two way street - Technology, Math and Science powerfully support the Arts.

Two years ago, Heidi and I travelled to Las Vegas for the first time.  Not for the gambling, but for the several Cirque Du Soleil shows.  Let me tell you that if you have ever daydreamed about travelling back in time to Greece to see Aeschylus performed in the original, you need to go to Vegas and take in these shows.  The power of Cirque Du Soleil to profoundly move modern audiences flows directly from their full-on integration of every technical technique that one could imagine.   I am not saying one leaves the show saying, “Wow!  That was great technology!” You leave moved.

In Ka, the story of an exiled Chinese prince and princess regaining their proper place, the technology is both the lead actor and invisible to the audience.  The shipwreck scene is beyond description.  Then, in the battle scene, the entire stage lifts and rotates, but the sense in the audience is that the stage is still, and we are floating above, gripping our seats to keep from falling to the stage.  Suspended on computer controlled invisible wires, the actors and actresses kick off the stage and fight in real time with moves that would shame the best of Hollywood.  It was one of those rare times for me in drama when I forgot for a time that I had an identity.  Just reading this, you really can’t get what I’m talking about any more than I can intuit the effect of the seemingly crude derricks and platforms the Greeks used to float the gods and the occasional philosopher above the stage.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, for practical reasons, I prefer the term to remain STEM.  But, as we move in the next years to fully implement STEM in our District, we will be intentional in the mutual integration of the Arts and Technology because that is the only way our graduates will be fully educated and prepared to inherit and advance the legacy of Western Civilization.

A Strategic Plan for STEM on San Juan Island

By Jack McKenna – San Juan Island School Director, Position 5

This blog is an open forum dedicated to implementing a STEM program in the San Juan Island School District.  For options on how you can join in, check the about page.

If you are reading this first post, you are likely a citizen, parent or educator of San Juan Island who knows what STEM is, and thinks it is a good idea for our students to have a strong STEM program in our schools.  Thanks for reading, this post is for you.

You are likely a STEM advocate, and likely have been talking up STEM or perhaps working without much direction to move the STEM agenda forward.  You may have been serving on the STEM committee wondering when we’re going to get this train to leave the airport. Perhaps you are aware of others also working toward implementing STEM, but at the moment, we are working piecemeal. Our separate efforts will not dovetail without coordination and our efforts are likely working at cross purposes. We are administrators, students, former students, parents, teachers, technical business leaders, politicians, and STEM aware community members.

We need to write a plan.

The plan needs to be strategic, and acknowledge the necessity of marketing STEM to the community. Guidance for what the plan needs to include can be found in the Board Resolution.

Prewriting is the first stage of any successful writing process. Taking some time now share, research, reflect and learn prior to drafting the plan is critical.  At the end of the process we need a strategic vision for which all stakeholders will advocate.  If we expect to be on the same page, we need to all participate in creating the page.

I have volunteered to represent the San Juan Island School District Board of Directors in this process.  Since all roads to STEM lead through the Board, I need your help.  I bring to the table substantial experience in organizing successful innovative alternative public schools. Specifically, I designed and implemented three public school programs serving families wanting a home school style learning experience in cooperation with their local school district.  Since at the time the home school families and their local schools were generally hostile to one another, you can imagine that I learned a lot about successfully organizing and overcoming barriers.  There are three key principles I apply:

  • Listen to what the stakeholders want and then figure out a way to say, “Yes.”
  • Create a clear picture of all benefits and barriers and have good plans for each.
  • Never stop promoting, selling, and modifying (see first principle).

So, I am soliciting your thoughts on these questions:

What are the benefits of STEM?

What do you want the SJISD STEM program to look like in five years?

What are the barriers to creating a good STEM program on San Juan Island?

In keeping with the proven leadership model of give/get/merge/go I will start by answering these questions for myself. In reaction to my thoughts, hopefully your own will be clarified.  As we share our answers to these questions, we will find some divergence – then the work will begin to merge our ideas.  The answers below represent no one but me, and I am inflexible in my commitment to flip-flopping as needed in response to your better ideas.

What are the benefits of STEM?

Educational leaders of all stripes have noted that the American school system does a great job preparing students for yesterday.  We continue to prepare students for work in a world without the advanced robotics and digital processing that are the core of the work world our students will enter.  To put it bluntly, STEM is an effective way to start putting the ladder of public schools on the right wall – creating congruence between how schools function and how the modern workplace functions.   The core of this is the fact that STEM school work is done in collaboration at the top end of the cognitive taxonomy, and most importantly, has open ended outcomes that cannot be predefined in a teacher’s manual or measured on a standardized test.

A good K-12 STEM program will attract students to our schools, perhaps even growing our enrollment.  It will give potential dropouts a reason to stay enrolled as the connection between school and being able to afford food at age twenty five will be apparent to all.

A stream of STEM ready graduates may encourage small companies to locate here.

What do you want the STEM program in SJISD to look like in five years?

I would like to see STEM implemented powerfully in the Middle School with at least one required course and several related electives.  In fact, with staff and parents willing, wouldn’t it be great to have STEM be the organizing theme for Middle School? As students approach High School, it is the perfect time to focus on high paying career options. At FHHS, I would like to see STEM courses as full credit alternatives for Math, Science and Arts requirements, strong STEM elective choices, and integration of all disciplines into the STEM curriculum, and integration of STEM into all disciplines. One could, for example, envision a social studies elective titled, “Digital Surveillance, A.I., and Your Freedom”.  At the Grade School, I would like to see students successfully using programing skills to write simple programs for various purposes including basic robotics, and most importantly, receive a solid grounding in the scientific method.  At graduation, every student should have a clear understanding of the geography of the pervasive technical/digital society and work place, have confidence in their ability to succeed, and know how to take the next steps in starting a career of interest.

What are the barriers to creating a STEM program on San Juan Island?

The barriers are many, varied, and some are challenging.  Here are a few that come to mind:

STEM coursework does not maximize standardized test scores, it maximizes thinking.  In a successful STEM effort, rote based standardized test scores will likely drop.

We have finite hours and days with our students. We cannot just “add” STEM.  If we are picking up STEM, what are we going to drop?

Few people really understand what learning at the required high levels of thinking looks like.  People support it in concept, but when they see it, it does not look like school.  Desks are not in rows, peer conversation and cooperation is more or less constant. Texts are resources only, and there is lots of screen time research singly and in groups. Multiple failures are a normal part of eventually getting it right, and authentic self-evaluation is a significant part of the grading process.  Results cannot be scripted or predetermined and learning during a project can cause the criteria for success to change on the fly. We can expect a backlash from people who want schools to drill and kill at the lowest levels of thinking. There are a lot of these people, and some are in congress and legislatures and serve as leaders in our community.

The bells and cells structure of the school day complicates the synthesis of all academic disciplines when creating integrated STEM learning products.

The curse of age/grade grouping makes organizing STEM lessons based on the developmental readiness of students difficult.

Our educators will deliver whatever we ask, but they must be provided physical resources, excellent training, ongoing support, and we have to have their backs and defend their efforts to the parents and the community at large.

District financial resources are already allocated and scarce.

District time resources, from the Superintendent to newest employee, are already fully allocated.

So there you have my thoughts in brief and now it is your turn. Any progress we make together will start by discourse that illuminates not just our common vision of STEM but also our differences.  To that end, I encourage you to share your insights.  You may have a key understanding everyone else has missed.

As we collect our multiple perspectives, we will soon find we have a large pot of chicken soup.  But fear not!  With a reasonable amount of work, out of our divergence will come unity of purpose, a clear mission, effective strategies, and suggestions for tactics.

Tag, you’re it.