San Rafael iTeams
Dozens of pictures of cartoon characters cover the tables at the San Rafael City Schools' District office boardroom. Groups of teachers are arranging the pictures to form a storyline according to inferences made from the pictures' details. Larry Horvath, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at San Francisco State University (SFSU), explained, "Not all science has controlled experiments. Evolution and geology require claims from evidence and inferences from that evidence."
Next, groups share their story with another group and the group asks questions. Together, they agree on the strongest story. Larry produces a new picture. "Here is a new discovery! Do you now need to revise your story?"Larry explains to the teachers that science is constantly changing based on new evidence. At the end of the activity the teachers reflect on all of the Science and Engineering Practices they had used.
The teachers are part of the integrating Technology Engineering and Math/Science (iTEAMS) project. iTEAMS embraces the full potential of STEM integration by incorporating both engineering and technology into their math and science programs. The project is a partnership between San Rafael City Schools, San Francisco State University, the Exploratorium, and four local school districts. More information can be found on their profile page. The project has 58 teachers in grades 3rd through 8th.
The first year of the project focuses on the basics of inquiry and project-based learning. Teachers are finding value in the professional development. Larry said, "The most rewarding piece is that they believe that this is what they should be doing with their students. They want to do this in the classroom. They want to get their students to be engaged in the Science and Engineering Practices." The second year will focus on developing and using integrated STEM lesson plans. As successful lesson plans become more established they will then be converted into curricular units. In the third year teachers will produce and implement integrative STEM project events and activities.
Molly Todd, project director, believes the most successful part of the year has been the quality of professional development. "The feedback has been phenomenal. Everyone who left the training gained something valuable from it." The teachers agree, "We are so excited to be in this project! We can now bring more experiential learning into the classroom and less of having students memorizing facts." "Best professional development – ever!"
The project design intensive hours include a summer institute, which includes three days at San Francisco's Exploratorium Museum and two days with San Francisco State University Professors and professional development providers. The remaining three days are during the school year. The follow up consists of six hours coaching, 12 hours of collaboration, and six hours of blended learning. The blended learning is either online follow-up pieces to what they have already learned or reflections and feedback. Part of this is familiarizing teachers with the website by having them go online and accomplishing tasks.
Year one has had its share of challenges. "Many of our difficulties have been logistical such as getting subs and having teachers attend professional development on days that don't conflict with their schedule," explained Eric Hsu, Professor of Mathematics, SFSU. They addressed these challenges by offering trainings on different dates and having participants being able to switch their assigned dates if need and being as flexible as possible. They also had one of the professional development providers/coaches find a job right before the school year started. "Getting all of this just up and running was my main challenge," Molly said.
An integral piece to the project is its website, which houses resources, professional development activities, and a calendar. Molly is very proud of the website and said teachers have become more used to going online and accessing resources. It is also a key component to the sustainability of the project's goals. The website will continue to house integrated STEM lessons and projects after the project's third year. In addition, the teachers, who are at every site in the three different districts, share with their colleagues at staff meetings with updates on the professional development they have received. The administrators have been extremely supportive of the project and have encouraged project teachers to share their experiences across grade level groups.
According to several teachers, the project is changing students' attitudes about STEM. "A lot more of our students are saying they now want to be scientists. This is a big change from the past." "My daughter is in an iTEAMS teachers' class. She now wants to be an engineer!" Judging from the evidence, iTEAMS' first year has been a great success!