In Charlotte County Public Schools (CCPS), all 10 of our elementary schools have a STEM lab. As early as kindergarten, students begin engaging in hands-on learning and exploring STEM careers. Yet, even with regular visits to the STEM lab throughout elementary school, our fifth graders struggled on the Florida Statewide Science Assessment. Another challenge was that our teachers didn’t have a defined STEM curriculum that was uniformly applied to all elementary STEM labs.
To turn things around, we applied for a Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grant from the Florida Department of Education. We were awarded the grant in 2015-16 to fund our “STEM Education Enhancement (SEE) for Student Success!” project.
As part of the project, the STEM lab teacher from each elementary school participated in a train-the-trainer model of professional development (PD), which consisted of nine full days of training throughout the school year. In addition, we provided all 10 teachers with the STEMscopes online, comprehensive STEM curriculum and hands-on exploration kits.
Through the MSP grant project, our teachers improved their instructional capabilities and their confidence in STEM, which has really paid off in our STEM labs and classrooms.
Following are four lessons we learned that helped us—and could help other schools—enhance the content knowledge and teaching skills of STEM teachers.
1. Give teachers a say.
Teachers often lack a voice and a choice in professional development. One of the first lessons we learned is that teachers should have a say in what they learn and they should feel comfortable enough to have a candid conversation about what they need or what they don’t know.
Toward that end, in each of the nine PD sessions, teachers discussed and decided which science standards they thought should be included in their next training. Including teachers in the planning and decision-making helped them feel more empowered, which helped them embrace the training. It also resulted in PD tailored to their most pressing needs, and it helped them “own” the curriculum and strategies discussed in each session.
2. Facilitate collaboration.
Having nine days of on-site PD helped our STEM lab teachers develop a very strong sense of community. Throughout the training, the level of interaction and the sharing of ideas and materials were incredible, and that collaboration continued online between the sessions. As a result, teachers left each session energized and excited to return to their schools and train their peers on the knowledge and skills they learned.