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Building powerful middle-school STEM programs with professional development and strategic plans

Discovery Education provides this Missouri school district’s STEM Innovator program with personalized learning experiences and instructional growth opportunities

Two years ago, the Mehlville School District in suburban St. Louis passed a tax levy that included dedicated funding for professional development and strategic plans focusing on middle school STEM programs. For Tina Plummer, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Mehlville, that meant implementing the STEM Innovator program with Discovery Education, where staff had ongoing professional development and coaching focused on STEM education and career opportunities.

“We were looking to personalize learning experiences for middle-school students and to provide teachers with training, modeling, coaching and support for implementation of programming that would integrate STEM and project-based learning into instruction,” Plummer says. “The Discovery Education STEM Innovator program fit our needs.”

Implementation and integration

Plummer says before the STEM Innovator program was rolled out to the district’s four middle schools and 2,300 students, there were launch events at each school for teachers and administrators at the end of the 2015-16 school year. There was also a STEM summer training for middle school teachers, who also signed up for extensive training with Discovery Education STEM specialists as part of the STEM Innovator program. Each middle school has eight STEM innovators, who are part of a three-year program that features three extra training days in the summer and six days of coaching from Discovery Education. Before the start of the 2017-18 school year, the district offered three additional days of STEM training for all middle school teachers.

Plummer says the STEM Innovator program has improved the district’s “Project Lead The Way,” which offers course pathways focusing on the medical field, engineering and computer science.

To facilitate the introduction of these changes, Mehlville also developed a STEM Advisory Board made of community members and district administrators, and created another community event, “Breakfast With The Experts.” Plummer says this group brings engineers and people who work in finance and other STEM-related fields to talk with middle school girls about future job opportunities and to do fun activities.

Feedback and results

At a recent STEM Advisory Board meeting, Mehlville’s STEM Innovators shared memorable moments from the first year of the program, including an assignment in which students had to create a functioning body part. Plummer says the district conducted surveys with students and teachers. Students surveyed reported a 70 percent satisfaction rate with STEM activities in their classes. Students said that the program’s hands-on activities, such as the assignment to create a body part, made STEM classes more interesting. 

The satisfaction rate for surveyed teachers was 95 percent, and the quality of the professional development was often cited as a reason. Plummer says teachers’ positive feedback also focused on students becoming more engaged and on developing their critical-thinking skills.

“Classrooms are more engaging, and students are helping to facilitate their learning,” Plummer says. “Students are exploring and developing real-world connections.” 

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