Professional Learning

Seeding STEM: One School Designs a Grant to Break the Cycle of Poverty

July 25, 2008

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, recently discussed a report from Public Agenda titled "Important, But Not for Me: Parents and Students in Kansas and Missouri Talk About Math, Science, and Technology Education." The report found that even though parents and students say that they understand the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, they don't see how it applies to them personally.

Many educators often ask me how to design a STEM grant that has the potential to increase student achievement and motivate students to learn. The following is a framework for collaboration you might be able to adapt to your own school for your unique needs, and it hinges on this same visionary I recently honored: Sally Ride.

Her company, Imaginary Lines, is very interested in helping our schools, and I am delighted to discuss, through these blog entries, ways to make this happen for you and your students. Ride would be delighted, as well, to know you are seriously thinking about the role STEM plays in our lives.

Recently, a conversion charter school that's desperate to break the cycle of community poverty submitted a grant to Ride's company. The goal is to help the school's teachers with high-quality professional development that will prepare them to deliver STEM content and values in their classrooms using Web 2.0 tools and technology for collaboration and communication.

Kamaile Academy, in Hawaii, has an urgent need to teach its teachers, students, parents, and community members twenty-first-century skill sets in order to lift the community out of poverty. To do this, the school must provide teachers with transformative skills so they can motivate students to learn. Educators at this school in the Wai'anae Moku (district) firmly believe that students must be active participants in the world around them. For centuries, a phrase in this area has been "Watch and learn."

Kamaile Academy, a P-6 school that will expand to P-8 in 2008-09, chose to become a conversion charter school in 2007, which provides Kamaile with the flexibility to be responsive to the needs of its teachers, students, families, and community. The school accepts all students in its geographic area on the Wai'anae coastline because it was a state Department of Education school prior to its conversion.

Teachers will guide their students toward STEM career goals by connecting them with kupunas (elders), including researchers, scientists, educators, and business and industry leaders. In addition, grant partners will promote development of an interdisciplinary, research-based Sally Ride Science Center to advance the understanding of STEM for educators, students, and the community.

This center will draw on state-of-the-art National Aeronautics and Space Administration educational tools and STEM-related corporate sponsorships to create sustainable partnerships with the local scientific community and mainland scientists working in universities and in STEM-related occupations. Its focus will be to provide a physical place where students can explore and experience new STEM skills firsthand. At the center, kids will learn about space and the urgent need to preserve fragile ocean and earth ecosystems.

During the summer, to celebrate a year of hard work by students and teachers, there will be a free Sally Ride Science Festival and Summer Camp for all interested students in Hawaii.

The Wai'anae area has a population of about 31,000, and residents live in several communities along the Leeward Coast of the island of Oahu. The ethnic makeup at the school is predominantly Hawaiian or part Hawaiian (officially 60 percent, but self-reported closer to 80 percent). Almost 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced-cost lunches. Over the next five years, as Kamaile Academy extends to K-12, its enrollment will nearly double to 1,200 students.

Kamaile staff estimate that about 60 percent of the students lack housing or reside in overcrowded conditions with other families, placing them near homelessness. A significant effect of the poor housing situation is that Kamaile has a virtual revolving door, because students flow in and out of the program. Data from 2005-06 reveals that of the 650 students enrolled, about one-hundred did not complete the school year, and the same number of new students enrolled sometime during the year. This translates into 200 students, or about 30 percent, who were transient and did not enjoy the benefits of a full year of the program.

Teachers are not able to track the effectiveness of their instruction when students suddenly transfer out of the program. An exciting benefit from the grant, if the school receives the funding, will be that teachers will have a real-time method to track their instruction through Web 2.0 technologies, such as class wikis, blogs, and e-portfolios.

I will share more details about the school and its professional-development goals in the second and third parts of this blog entry, but please share your thoughts about what I've discussed so far.

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