ENGLEWOOD, CO: At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Englewood Schools added STEM SmartLabs to all of its elementary schools, thanks to a grant from the Gill Foundation. The labs made it possible for the district to offer innovative STEM programming to all students in grades K-12, adding to the existing STEM Labs and programming at the middle and high school levels.
In order to evaluate the progress of the STEM program and to continue to improve, the district and Gill Foundation contracted with a third party to conduct an evaluation of the program with data from students, STEM facilitators and teachers in the district.
The evaluation, conducted by The Evaluation Center of the University of Colorado Denver, found that overall, students felt successful and engaged in their STEM classes and were interested in a STEM career.
In particular, students in middle and high school showed that their engagement and feelings of success increased throughout the school year (from September 2017 to April 2018).
Students reported that they feel confident in many STEM skills such as problem-solving, collaborating with others and goal-setting.
The STEM classes reach students who learn in different ways and helps them build important 21st century skills. One participant in the study commented, “It’s tapping into kids who are more kinesthetic learners, hands on learners, audiovisual learners.”
Another said, “STEM Lab is an opportunity for kids to collaborate and work together … to problem-solve with another person and to make decisions based on what the group wants versus what you want. That social-emotional component is really, really an important piece.”
STEM Classrooms & Facilitators
STEM Lab Classrooms showed increasing alignment with STEM and project-based learning models from September 2017 to April 2018 based on the reports of external observers.
As a group, STEM facilitators were confident in their ability to motivate and encourage students in STEM Labs and to develop and facilitate STEM curriculum. According to the evaluation, STEM facilitators reported feeling supported in their work and prepared for their roles.
“I am really, really loving what I am doing. … An absolutely stellar experience is to get those ‘ah-ha’ moments from students,” said one STEM facilitator.
STEM facilitators also saw the impact this learning had on students and families. “Anytime we have a parent night going on, that lab is filled with people and parents. We will see the kids showing off, ‘Hey, look what I did.’ I think that is really powerful when the kids are teaching their parents and they are excited,” one participant said.
Classroom Teachers and Principals
Interviewees reported progress in implementing STEM as a school-wide initiative at all schools. Teachers and principals reported that STEM facilitators were essential to classroom integration and teacher collaboration.
One interviewee reported, “For some teachers, there was a fear that [STEM] was another class that didn’t align with our standards and that it was a waste of 45 minutes … [However] it has been so beneficial because [the STEM facilitator] has aligned so much of everything into STEM that … the kids are seeing their learning in a different way. I hear wonderful things from teachers.”
The district is thrilled with the progress that the STEM program has seen, based on the results of the study. However, the district is also using the data to know where the program needs to go next to continue to be successful.
The district has identified the following as immediate next steps to expand and enhance STEM programming:
- Expanding career pathways at the high school level
- Increasing involvement of industry partners to make career connections for students
- Increasing the rigor in STEM classes at both the middle and elementary levels
- Having regular professional learning committee (PLC) meetings with all STEM coordinators to ensure vertical alignment of STEM programming
The district is pleased with the progress noted on the evaluation, especially after year one of implementation K-12. The evaluation also helped the district identify important next steps that can continue to improve STEM programming for all students in the district.