In a recent post for her school website, former Tennessee Educator Fellow and Oak Ridge science teacher Cathy Ginel compares the Tennessee surge in enthusiasm for hockey to the surge in her district for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and project-based learning. She highlights some of the engaging, rigorous work students have been doing in the district from working with NASA engineers to using 3-D printing to create prosthetic hands. Like the Nashville Predators and hockey, applied STEM learning is taking off in Tennessee! Cathy wrote:
This past week, local news highlighted Robertsville students and their work on the NASA Cube Satellite project. In this multi-year project, students are designing and building a cube satellite to compare vegetation data between the natural and artificial foliage. Students have been the driving force in this project by answering their initial question of what they would build, to the follow-up questions of how it will operate and send signals back to Earth. Students present regularly to NASA engineers to get approval with each step. The pertinence of the task developed from the fires in Gatlinburg, giving students a launch pad for their project. Students are also committed to a project that will give back to their local community. That community commitment is a trait that we want to instill in future generations.
For the last two months, Robertsville students in Tech Titans have been using a 3D printer to create prosthetic hands that will be donated to two children in need. Students sacrificed extra time before, during, and after school to finish the 3D components and assemble the prosthetic hands. It was significant to our students to help other children. It was relevant because students could apply their science and math knowledge to the design and creation of the hands. It was pertinent because these hands had to be created by our students correctly and quickly. Instruction that allows students to help others and solve a real-world problem while improving their STEM skills is a seamless solution to engaging students in standards while retaining student interest.
Over the last year, Robertsville students have applied their knowledge to grade level project-based learning (PBL) activities that have engaged them in cross-curricular experiences that also included community members. Students have worked on designing plans for a Habitat for Humanity house to be built in our community while working alongside the Anderson County Habitat for Humanity representatives. After reading Long Walk to Water in language arts classes, Robertsville students recently raised over $3,500 towards building a well in South Sudan. They worked with other core subjects to investigate water diseases in science classes, to understand the U.S. water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and to design a scale model of the South Sudan well in math classes. Students had the opportunity to learn from multiple guest speakers who had traveled to South Sudan to build the wells, as well as Oak Ridge Schools’ Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Tracey Beckendorf-Edou, who lived in Africa and modeled the daily water routine with students. Other Robertsville students worked with local law enforcement and CIA officers to investigate Abraham Lincoln’s killer in language arts classes after reading the book, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. In each of these PBLs, students worked on pertinent, relevant, and significant projects.
The shift in education to inquiry-based instruction through STEM and PBL learning has been challenging. Teachers have modified how they teach, what they teach, and their outcomes expected of students. The instructional shift to inquiry-based instruction is a part of our curriculum and was recognized this May by Advanc-ed as a STEM certified school. Oak Ridge Schools middle schools are the only middle schools in Tennessee with the STEM certified designation. Just as the Nashville Predators have grown in fan base since their arrival in 1998 to a now statewide phenomenon, inquiry-based instruction has grown at Robertsville to a point of no return. Our educational program is pertinent, relevant, and significant to our students and community. We are a part of the team creating a commitment to inquiry-based instruction just like Mike Fisher, PK Subban, and Pekka Rinne are creating a level of statewide commitment for the Predators. We are seeking our own version of the Stanley Cup – success for all students at a great STEM school!