Monday, September 2, 2013

Creation of New LASD STEM Program

This year we are thrilled to be enhancing our instructional program at all elementary schools by building out a new STEM program.  STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school and community.  While the development of a robust k-6 STEM program is new to LASD, we have invested in STEM education for the past few years with CSTEM.  CSTEM, developed and taught by Sheena Vaidyanathan, is a program that teaches all grade six students creativity, critical thinking and computational thinking through computer science.  Our success with this instruction further emphasized the need to begin enhancing scientific thinking in younger grades.  The development of CSTEM and focus on teaching on grade 6 students coding has put LASD at the forefront of elementary STEM education. We are leveraging what we have learned from this program and applying to other grade levels. For LASD, developing a K-6 STEM program is about moving forward, solving problems, learning, and pushing innovation to the next level to improve scientific learning experiences for all students.

The new STEM program has been made possible by an increased grant from the Los Altos Educational Foundation and will allow us the opportunity to incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards into our program.  It is always exciting to be able to develop new programs that positively impact learning experiences for students, but even more exciting to build a program with a dynamite team of talented teachers.  Our current team includes the following teachers:

District STEM Coach: Karen Wilson

CSTEM Teacher, Grade 6 All Schools: Sheena Vaidyanathan

Almond: Beth Leach
Covington: Katie Farley
Gardner Bullis: Amy Shelley
Loyola: Grace Choi
Oak: AlexSchroeder
Santa Rita: Kelly Rafferty
Springer: Joannie Craddock

The development of the full STEM program will take some time, however we are already implementing the first phase of our vision.  During year one of the STEM program, STEM teachers will be focused on four main components:  

  1. Building out the Computational Thinking/Computer Science Lessons for all students in grades k-5 to complement and build to our Grade 6 CSTEM Program
  2. Extending STEM opportunities beyond the classroom and school day through Lunch Clubs, School Events, Family Nights, etc
  3. Supporting and extending Physical Science Labs for k-5 students
  4. Creating and supporting touchstone science experiences for all grade 6 students transitioning to the Next Gen Science Standards

We have also begun the task of building out a three year vision for the program and are embracing Moonshot Thinking (great video if you haven't seen it).  This year will be an incredible year of learning as STEM programs are still fairly new in k-6 education.  Our team meets weekly to ensure we are building the very best program possible that is based on best practices, current research and is aligned to the Next Gen Science Standards. We will also be attending the first statewide STEM conference in Sacramento this November.  I guarantee this will be an incredible year of learning for all students and teacher involved.  If you have an elementary school student attending a LASD school, I encourage you to ask them about the STEM lab.  They might already have something incredible to share with you!

Contributed by: Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships

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