GUEST BLOGGER CARLA BILLUPS
Dream job: STEM coach
There are moments as an educator when you feel you are doing exactly as you were intended. The stars have aligned and you are where you were meant to be. That happened about four years ago. I had left my teaching position and changed districts to take on a newly created STEM Coach position. Initially, we received a grant to adopt an expensive and unsustainable canned STEM program. Instead we created a program: STEM labs for all 27 kindergarten through fifth grade schools in Western North Carolina.
We jumped in with our Superintendent’s blessing (who believes strongly in STEM education), a small budget, open Elementary and Technology Directors, great digital lab facilitators, and six pilot schools. We built our own curriculum based around using the Engineering and Design Practices aligned to North Carolina’s Science Essential Standards.
Designing STEM labs
Over the course of four months, I combed over various engineering design challenges, made up challenges, enlisted my coworkers, talked with colleagues all over the country, and gleaned ideas from STEM friends to pull together the curriculum. We built a Canvas course for our K-5 teachers and STEM Lab Assistants, we provided training, a group of brave STEM Lab Assistants, and professional development for the individual pilot schools. We had a small grant to fund very basic and easy to find consumable materials and a bit of technology. Parents provided lots of recycled materials. We knew our labs had to use materials that were easily accessible to our students so they could work on the challenges at home as well as school.
STEM book of the month
The STEM labs are very popular with our students and engage those who might not be as engaged in the regular classroom. In the STEM Lab, they can be rock stars. We have also added thematically-based STEM challenges of the month. This year, after serving on NSTA’s and the Children’s Book Council’s Best STEM Book Committee, I knew that there are great STEM books that really need to be shared with all students.
Our STEM Book of the Month concept aligned vertically with the North Carolina standards from K-5, with each grade level having a different challenge. The goal is to tie in all of the various standards from all curricular areas while highlighting a NSTA Best STEM Book.
Our January STEM book of the month: Prairie Boy
Our January STEM Book of the Month was Prairie Boy: Frank Lloy Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home by Barb Rosentock, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Students learn that Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the modern home inside and out while developing an American Style of architecture. It was one of my favorites of this year’s winners and illustrates a child’s true love, and building on that to form a lifelong career and passion.
Integrating the standards
While going through the standards, we integrated when we saw a truly natural fit, i.e. nothing forced, nothing where a teacher may have to guess how that standard applies to the challenge. Only ELA standards with an obvious “fit” were listed, but we also knew teachers would integrate the book with the ELA standards that best fit their needs. The big idea was to use a STEM book integrated with ELA.
Prairie Boy has a main character that grows up to be one of America’s most well known architects and there is a richness to the geometry integrated with the mathematics standards. Social studies, art, digital learning, and even physical education standards are integrated into the challenges when there is a direct tie.
We send the flyer to each K-5 teacher, media specialist, principal, and STEM lab manager. Some schools have fully embraced the book. All grade levels use the purchased books in the classroom and complete their challenges in the lab. We want teachers to see how STEM is integrated into ELA and all curricular areas. STEM isn’t just regulated to science standards.
Carla Billups is an Elementary STEM Coach in North Carolina as well as a co-author of a science trade book The Fungus Among Us, The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Scary. She taught in elementary grades for over twenty-five years and has served on both NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book committee and the BEST STEM book committee. Her love for children’s literature has been present since as far back as she can remember. Over the years, she has worked diligently to incorporate novels, non-fiction, and science trade books into all subject areas. Twitter: @cmbillups. Facebook: Carla M. Billups. firstname.lastname@example.org
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