Implementing STEM Curriculum in Rural Schools

https://www.pltw.org/stem-for-...Clear Lake Community School District, a rural school district in Clear Lake, Iowa, was looking for a cohesive student STEM experience for over 1400 students. Hear from Director of Teaching and Learning, Emily Hill and Instructional Coach, Kristin Ebeling as they dig into how they plan to implement a full PreK-12 STEM pathway by the 2023-24 school year.

Director of Teaching and Learning Emily Hill and Instructional Coach Kristin Ebeling at Clear Lake Community School District were solving for curriculum gaps across their elementary, middle, and high school programing when they came across Project Lead The Way’s (PLTW) PreK-12 STEM curriculum. Their elementary program had no set science curriculum and was dependent on teachers providing direct instruction, creating research projects, and pulling materials from numerous sources.

“We were looking for a curriculum that provided a progression of K-5 learning that incorporated high-impact teaching and learning methods to help students develop a deeper understanding of science concepts. We believed that PLTW Launch provided all those qualities. In addition to the curriculum itself, the training and support PLTW provided for our teachers was an invaluable resource,” said Hill.

Their middle school electives had ample project-based learning opportunities but lacked consistency in student learning and experience. Also, they wanted to integrate career learning opportunities into the high school experience that focused on computer science and biomedical science.

“We wanted to offer students a way to show their learning where making mistakes was part of the process. They are challenged to figure out the solution on their own during these experiences. That was missing from our structure before PLTW,” said Hill.

The district received a professional development grant (STEM Scale-up Grant) to train two instructional coaches to teach PLTW Launch, as well as a grant from a local organization. In addition, they were selected to be part of the STEM BEST program to implement PLTW Gateway in their middle school, and PLTW Computer Science and PLTW Biomedical Science in their high school. They approached implementation through manageable chunks focusing more on getting teachers comfortable and well-trained with the curriculum, and then introducing modules and courses gradually through a multi-year approach.

For example, the first year, instructional coaches teamed up with classroom teachers for the elementary modules. The second year, they introduced the approach to teaching and learning to new teachers and special education. From there, the instructional coaches created additional resources for on-going learning. They introduced modules, participated in the beta release of PLTW Launch’s PreK curriculum, and then continued adding modules until they were able to cover the National Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and transition PLTW Launch to their primary science curriculum.

In their middle school and high school programs, they are also taking a multi-year approach through the following schedules:

Middle School:

  • Year One (2020-21):
    • Electives: Automation and Robotics (6th grade), Computer Science for Innovators and Makers (7th Grade), App Creators (8th Grade)
  • Year Two (2021-22):
    • Electives: Automation and Robotics (6th grade), Computer Science for Innovators and Makers (7th Grade), Design and Modeling (7th Grade), App Creators (8th Grade)
    • Classroom: Medical Detectives (8th Grade Science)
  • Year Three (2022-23):
    • Electives: Automation and Robotics (6th grade), Computer Science for Innovators and Makers (7th Grade), Design and Modeling (7th Grade), App Creators (8th Grade)
    • Classroom: Medical Detectives (7th Grade Science), Energy and the Environment (8th Grade Science), All other PLTW Gateway units (8th Grade Core rotation)

High School:

  • Year One (2018-19):
    • PLTW Computer Science: Computer Science Essentials and Computer Science A
  • Year Two (2019-20):
    • PLTW Computer Science: Computer Science Essentials, Computer Science Principles, and Computer Science A (independent study)
  • Year Three (2020-21):
    • PLTW Computer Science: Computer Science Essentials, Computer Science Principles, and Computer Science A (independent study)
    • PLTW Biomedical Science: Principles of Biomedical Science
  • Year Four (2021-22):
    • PLTW Computer Science: Computer Science Essentials, Computer Science A (independent study), and Cybersecurity
    • PLTW Biomedical Science: Principles of Biomedical Science, Human Body Systems
  • Year Five (2022-23):
    • PLTW Computer Science: Computer Science Essentials, Computer Science, Principles, Computer Science A, and Cybersecurity
    • PLTW Biomedical Science: Principles of Biomedical Science, Human Body Systems, and Medical Interventions
  • Year Six (2023-24):
    • PLTW Computer Science: Computer Science Essentials, Computer Science, Principles, Computer Science A, and Cybersecurity
    • PLTW Biomedical Science: Principles of Biomedical Science, Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions, and Biomedical Innovation
  • They also plan to incorporate the PLTW Engineering program in the future!

Students across the district can see and experience firsthand the careers and roles they could work in, in the future. Not only is this an interwoven part of the PLTW curriculum, but Clear Lake Community School District has done a fantastic job of incorporating real-life perspectives by inviting community members in to talk about their roles. They do this strategically by engaging their community leaders during the modules, units, and/or courses that correlate to their job function. In addition, they also invite the community to PLTW Showcases where students can celebrate their learning and highlight their projects (an event the district hopes to make an annual occurrence).

So, what’s next for the district?

At Clear Creek Elementary, they have already implemented four to five modules in each classroom from PreK to 5th grade and hope to continue to grow as new modules are added.

“We know that PLTW is ever-changing and updating, so we have made a commitment to do the same. Additionally, we hope to bring back the PLTW Showcase as an annual event,” said Ebeling.

At the middle school, students are already exposed to a PLTW unit at each grade level (Automation and Robotics in 6th grade, App Creators in 7th grade, and in 8th grade, they have two modules: Computer Science for Innovators and Makers and Medical Detectives). Beginning next year, students will have PLTW all year. Each quarter, they will have a different unit: Flight and Space, Magic of Electrons, Science of Technology, and Green Architecture. They also plan to include Design and Modeling in the afternoon rotation schedule.

“We are so excited for next year! Our goal in adding these PLTW units is to provide some background for the PLTW courses that are offered in high school,” said Hill.

In high school, students have access to all four PLTW Computer Science courses, and an additional PLTW Biomedical Science course, Medical Interventions. This course furthers students’ understanding and enables them to solve health issues in the 21st century. It also gives them the opportunity to address public health, biomedical engineering, clinical medicine, and physiology challenges.

“They have the opportunity to work on an independent project with a mentor or advisor from a university, medical facility, or research institute. In addition to the PLTW Computer Science and PLTW Biomedical Science programs in the high school, students can take the [PLTW] Engineering course. This is a track that we hope to develop with the addition of another teacher in the future,” said Hill.

We are so incredibly inspired by Emily and Kristen, as well as all the educators at Clear Lake Community School District. They were able to build their STEM program with PLTW and create a pathway for students to continue gaining momentum and understanding throughout their PreK-12 experience, and ultimately giving them the best possible foundation for their future. We can already see the impact it is having on the students and the community.

Want to implement a STEM-based curriculum, but need some advice?

“Just go for it! Whether it is one module per grade level during a rotation schedule or the entire line of modules at each grade level, you can’t go wrong. Students will respond and keep coming back for more. At the secondary level, students will at first balk at the idea of open-ended learning, but in the end, it will be a much more fulfilling experience for them,” said Ebeling.

“There are always opportunities for funding out there. From the local level to the state level, adults and companies are looking to promote a growth mindset in students, as well as the work at their own company. Look outside the school for assistance in all areas. In my own experience, the Chamber of Commerce president has helped connect us with businesses, as well as a foundation that has been a huge support financially,” said Hill.

Ready to get started? Learn more here.

Clear Lake Community School District in Clear Lake, Iowa, is a tourist town as there tends to be a larger economic gap than most small towns. We recognize this as an issue and as a community believe in closing this gap. The Clear Lake Community and School System has worked together to address these gaps by offering varied learning experiences and structures. The PLTW modules and courses at all levels provide opportunities to close the gap. Adding this opportunity gives all students an opportunity to engage in computer science regardless of their background or academic level.

Emily Hill is the Director of Teaching and Learning for the district. In her role, she focuses on curriculum and assessment across all grade levels as well as aligning work to the instructional framework. Emily and her family live in Clear Lake.

Kristin Ebeling is the PK-5 Math and Science Instructional Coach. She focuses on working closely with teachers to create learning opportunities for students that are appropriate and research-based. Her family resides in Clear Lake.

PLTW provides PreK-12 schools, teachers, and students with hands-on, interdisciplinary STEM-based curriculum that uniquely prepares students for life and their future careers.

PLTW rejuvenates teachers, providing world-class experiences that keep them on the forefront of how to prepare students for the demands of tomorrow. PLTW:

  • · Has provided professional development opportunities to more than 80,000 teachers giving them the support and resources needed to inspire students
  • · Offers best-in-class teacher training: PLTW Core Training with Master Teachers
  • · Continuously updates teacher resources that are available on demand
  • · Facilitates teacher networking opportunities
  • · Develops curriculum by a team of writers, many of whom are former teachers

Learn more about PLTW on pltw.org