A Collaborative Push for STEM
Over the past few years, Albertville School District in Albertville, Alabama has seen a massive push for STEM education.
The district’s success is due to a combination of factors. Alabama has seen statewide educational initiatives in support of STEM education, such as AMSTI and Technology in Motion. Then you have the district’s former superintendent, Dr. Boyd English, who has unwavering faith in the possibilities STEM opens up and in his administrator’s ability to carry out the task. Then you have the glue of the equation-the administrators and teachers who take on the challenge of scheduling, planning, learning new material, and teaching the students. Add on STEM education companies PowerUP EDU and Woz ED and you get a dynamic force field of dedicated team players.
When Spring Charles was given the position of Albertville’s Technology and STEM Instructional Coach, she found wide-sweeping support in favor of expanding the district’s STEM education program and creating vertical alignment across their K-12 schools. When I asked her what challenges the district has faced in implementing Woz ED STEM Curriculum, she told me that she hasn’t run into many hardships (outside of funding and allocating Title I money) making the STEM program at Albertville a reality because of how many people are on board.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
Mrs. Charles was working as a Computer Science teacher in the Albertville district for years before taking on her role as STEM Instructional Coach. She has always had a passion for STEM and Dr. English saw this immediately. She took on this position and set her sights on creating a vertically aligned STEM program in each school.
It started at a STEM conference called AETC in Mobile, AL, where Kennesaw University showcased a concept called, “The STEM Bus.” They set up a bunch of STEM stations on a school bus that kids could tinker with during break periods. Mrs. Charles brought the STEM Bus concept back to Albertville. After raving reviews from students on the STEM Bus, the district was ready to launch into a full-blown revamp of its STEM program. They would need to find partner organizations that would support them with resources, training, and an easily accessible curriculum.
Spring and the STEM team met Maggie Phillips and Jerry Gaillard from PowerUP EDU a few years ago. PowerUP connected them to Woz ED, their partner in STEM educational resources, and as Humphrey Bogart would say, this was indeed, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Spring is a huge fan of the Woz Curriculum and STEM kits. She says,
“I wish I would have had it when I was teaching Computer science. When you buy a pathway it’s a one-box shop. Everything you need is there. Plus, there is something about Woz ED kits that is a little bit more in-depth than your average curriculum.”
What’s going on with STEM at Albertville
Albertville has implemented Woz ED STEM pathways at each of their six schools. There is one preschool and kindergarten school, one primary school, one elementary school, one intermediate school, one middle school, and one high school within the district. They have purchased and utilized every Woz ED pathway besides Data Science and have obtained most of the levels within these pathways.
Like other districts, Charles and her team began implementing at the intermediate level and worked in both directions from there. She says,
For me, being able to start that spark at the middle school level allowed me to love the Woz ED curriculum the first time I saw it. If you can excite students with a curriculum then it makes your job a lot easier as a teacher.”
Now the district has four STEM labs at the elementary level and two designated STEM teachers at the middle/high school levels who teach Woz ED STEM courses and Computer Science. Each student participates in STEM lessons once or twice a week for at least 45 minutes.
This year they are bringing the pathways down to the kindergarten level and beginning to shift their sights toward STEM in early childhood education. Brandi Randall, one of the kindergarten teachers, will start teaching digital literacy and cybersecurity to four and five-year-olds, along with animation. During the district’s Summer STEM program, kindergartners were read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” and instructed on how to create their own caterpillars using stop-motion animation.
Charles shares her belief in the power of introducing STEM concepts to younger students and says,
“The sooner you can get it in their hands the more invested they are. Just because they are five years old doesn’t mean they can’t do animation or AI.”
Once their kindergarten courses are figured out, the district will begin introducing material to preschoolers.
Let’s Hear it for the Teachers!
If there is one thing I took away from my conversation with Spring Charles, it’s that the true superstars in the equation are the teachers. She tells me that she is inspired by the teachers who are learning new materials right alongside their students, who are going through training, and putting in extra hours in PD to provide their students with the best possible educational experiences in STEM.
They show up to Professional Development excited and ready to dive deep into the curriculum. They make power point slides to accompany the material. They support each other and put in loads of time and energy to accomplish the district’s learning goals. Spring says, “My teachers go above and beyond just the curriculum. When a teacher goes above and beyond what you give them, you know they’ve bought into the material.”
When teachers are invested in the material, the students are more likely to connect with it as well, and vice versa. That’s the beauty of this curriculum. It is accessible, fun, and laid out in a digestible way. Teachers love it, students show up excited for their classes, and everyone seems to win. Spring shared that, before STEM, many students would say that P.E. was their favorite course. Now, it is unanimously STEM across all ages.
The Journey Continues
Spring Charles is in it for the kids, as most educators tend to be. She tells me that this is why the district works so well alongside organizations like PowerUP EDU and Woz ED. Everyone is in it for the same reason.
“We are partners for life. We are all in it for one purpose and that is for the kids.”
Each day, she gets to go into classrooms and see students’ eyes light up as they explore the building blocks of STEM. She loves to see the smiles and the collaboration and the “no wrong answers” mentality. This is the greatest reward, to know that this program that she and her team have worked countless hours to implement is not wasted money or effort. She has seen the outcome of STEM education on teachers, students, administrators, and community members.
Together, alongside their life partners, the district will continue to move forward with this curriculum and continue to meet their goals of teaching students to become successful in whatever path they choose.