STEM Standard Narrative

What were the areas of strength noted in the Self Assessment? What were areas in need of improvement? What actions are being implemented to sustain the areas of strength? What plans are being made to improve the areas of need?




Just like the Engineering Design Process, reflection and redesign are critical to meeting a goal and reaching success. At Bluffton Middle we know that reviewing and improving are integral to making our program work and even more so in helping students successfully learn. We evaluate every aspect of what we do regularly to ensure our methods are not only the most practical, but the most effective.  We as a staff are always working to improve the learning process for our students.


STEM LEARNERS

ST1.1 The STEM school/program supports non-traditional student participation through outreach to groups often underrepresented in STEM program areas.


Our goal at BLMS is that all students have equal access to STEM learning, including those in traditionally underrepresented groups.  Given our diverse population, which has seen a rise in Hispanic/Latino students in the past several years, we actively seek ways to meet the needs of all students.  We incorporate STEM standards into all core classes and offer a variety of elective courses that emphasize STEM learning. This year, we held our School Choice Fair in conjunction with our ESOL Night.  This gave the parents of our Latino students the opportunity to gather information about our Project Lead the Way program, and there were translators available to help them ask and answer questions. Meeting the needs of the high number of diverse learners at BLMS  is one of the primary reasons we chose to implement STEM learning school-wide, rather than limiting it to a single program of study.


ST1.2  Students work independently and collaboratively in an inquiry-based learning environment that encourages finding creative solutions to authentic and complex problems.


There are many opportunities for students to tackle real-world problems throughout their coursework in both core and elective classes. This year, for example, students built structures to withstand hurricanes, designed a foot/ankle orthosis, planned cities for the industrial period, and used their math knowledge to develop economical Thanksgiving meals. Each of these projects required students to use the inquiry process to find solutions to problems.  One area for improvement is to incorporate the Engineering Design Process more consistently. While our students have been exposed to this process with several projects, we recognize a need to make it a larger part of our learning culture on a daily basis.


ST 1.3 Students are empowered to personalize and self-direct their STEM learning experiences supported by STEM educators who facilitate their learning.


Ultimately, our goal is to develop independent learners who can direct their own learning. Students at Bluffton Middle are encouraged to personalize their STEM learning while their teachers facilitate by guiding them through the learning process. One way students do this is through long-term projects like the Science Fair and National History Day, both of which require extensive research and development of presentations over the course of the year.   Aside from long-term projects, students regularly direct their learning in class by self-assessing and determining their learning needs, and facilitating their own discussions with Socratic seminars. We believe it is essential to create student-centered classrooms where students have ownership of their learning, and are always looking for ways to increase student choice and independence.


ST 1.4 - Students use technology resources to conduct research, demonstrate creative and critical thinking, and communicate and work collaboratively.


As a 1:1 device school, technology is embedded into our daily practice, so this indicator is certainly one of our strengths. Students are continually exposed to new ways to use their devices for research, collaboration, and the presentation of information.  A walk through our classrooms on any given day will reveal students using a variety of programs and applications as part of the learning process. Since becoming a 1:1 school in 2012, we have seen an increase in student engagement, and students have become competent in using technology efficiently and effectively.


ST 1.5 - Students demonstrate their learning through performance-based assessments and express their conclusions through elaborated explanations of their thinking.


We have done considerable work over the past few years to incorporate more performance-based assessments and ask students to justify and explain their thinking more often.  Our involvement with the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Mathematical Design Collaborative, now in its second year of implementation, supports this endeavor and helps teachers develop authentic writing tasks and math tasks.  In addition, students participate in a number of hands-on projects, keep interactive journals in many classes, and often reflect on their own work to explain their thinking. One way we could improve in this area would be to increase our use of portfolios, including digital portfolios, to encourage students to reflect on their learning in more depth.


STEM EDUCATORS

ST 1.6 - The interdisciplinary problem-based curriculum includes a focus on real-world applications.


Teachers at BLMS use curriculum maps designed by teacher-led curriculum writing teams to guide their instruction.  Our involvement in LDC and MDC has been a catalyst for a stronger focus on real-world problem-solving. In addition, this year our teachers designed interdisciplinary projects, which students worked on during our “STEM Saturdays.” Our goal is to incorporate more interdisciplinary units of an ongoing nature, beginning by identifying topics where our content-area curriculum maps overlap.  



ST 1.7 - STEM educators collaborate as an interdisciplinary team to plan, implement, and improve integrated STEM learning experiences.


When creating our master schedule, one priority was creating common planning time for all teachers within a given grade level.  Grade level teams meet once per week, and always put ‘STEM Spotlight’ on their agenda, giving at least one team member the chance to share a STEM activity their students have done recently. In addition to grade-level team meetings, teachers also meet weekly with their Professional Learning Community, where they plan in detail with like-content area peers and reflect on instructional practices.  We also have committees that meet monthly after school, including an LDC and MDC committee. That time is primarily used to work together planning modules of instruction. Our strength within this indicator is in the structuring of our schedule to allow for substantial common planning time. One way we can improve is to increase the communication among the disciplines to integrate more STEM learning experiences that are truly interdisciplinary.



ST 1.8 - STEM learning outcomes demonstrate students’ STEM literacy necessary for the next level of STEM learning and for postsecondary and workforce readiness.


As indicated by the data from standardized tests, BLMS exceeds Beaufort County Schools averages for the percentage of students Approaching, Meeting, or Exceeding the standards for Reading and Math in all grade levels except 7th grade math. In addition to quantitative data, we are working to increase our qualitative data based on assessment of 21st century skills. While we have rubrics that are used in some classes to assess cross-cutting STEM literacy skills, we could improve this indicator by creating grade-level rubric to assess the 4 C’s of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.  


ST 1.9 - STEM teachers and leaders participate in a continuous program of STEM-specific professional learning.


The annual professional development calendar has STEM-specific learning opportunities embedded for teachers and administrators to expand their technology knowledge. The strong professional development model is a platform for additional ways to incorporate new ideas with STEM focused units. New information is presented to staff  through external contracted vendors as well as in-district educational technology coaches. In addition, there are opportunities for staff members to attend annual conferences such as; FETC, SREB, and AdvancED Spotlighting STEM which support the STEM initiative within our school.


STEM EXPERIENCES

ST 1.10 - Community, post-secondary, and business/industry partners and/or families actively support and are engaged with and students in the STEM program.


Creating strong ties with community members and families is an important step in engaging our students with valuable STEM learning opportunities.  Our annual Career Fair is a one example of a platform for exposing students to the world outside of BLMS. We also connect with groups to give traditionally underrepresented groups the chance to participate in programs to help them expand their experiences. Overall, we are working to build stronger connections in the community, in particular in terms of bringing in experts who can assist students with their STEM learning.


ST 1.11 - Students are supported in their STEM learning through adult-world connections and extended day opportunities.


In addition to bringing community members into the school, it’s also important to provide extended day opportunities and take students out of the building to gain hands-on experience. We have many ongoing activities, which help us build lasting adult-world connections.   We are always looking to expand the selection of clubs available at BLMS, and have begun to plan for an after-school STEM club which will start next year. We will also continue to offer the opportunities that have been in place for some time, including our robotics club, our annual kayaking field trip, and an ongoing partnership with Heroes on Horseback and The Port Royal Sound Foundation.