Preston STEM Middle School is located in Fort Collins. It is part of the Poudre Schools District and has around 1100 students with strong enrolment demand. The school committed to a STEM focus around five years ago with a view to increasing student engagement STEM, music and arts are also valued.
The Principal and leadership team have developed and implemented a number of strategies to effectively deliver STEM programs.
The building itself feels contemporary with welcoming learning spaces that have been redefined over the past few years. Tables are grouped together to allow student group work collaboration and students utilise corridors and spaces to work together. Lounges and sofas were in some rooms and students were welcome to work from these.
Personal mobile phones are encouraged and students can access the web from their own sim card, many students have elected to install graphing and scientific calculators on their phones to avoid the purchase of a stand alone calculator.
The school has over 1200 netbooks for student use, and trolleys store and charge the devices. Many classes were operating in a true 1:1 design interspersed with collaborative group work in IWBs. A number of rooms have 3 IWBs in each room to encourage open collaboration and shared learning experiences, an experience to which students responded positively. Coming soon will be a maths class of 60 students, two teachers and 10 IWBs.
An initiative of Preston is an accelerated maths program whereby all students complete Algebra 1 while a number complete the high school Algebra 2 program prior to leaving Preston. The maths rooms had dedicated and passionate teachers with a strong sense of purpose and delivery. A high level of maths talk was evidence such “ we are mathematicians how will we solve this.” Teacher talk was minimal (say 20%) with extensive time given to group and individual problem solving and student discussion (80%). There was lots of thinking time and an expectation that students would engage in discussions and defend or elaborate on their answers or position. A discussion would not take place until 5 students had indicated that they had something constructive to offer. There was a culture of respect, peer acknowledgement and a truly supportive environment with students starting feedback with “I like how…, I agree with…., My thinking has changed…” for example.
Lessons valued Blooms taxonomy and a teacher maintained a focus on the ability to synthesise during reflection time e.g. At first I thought….now I understand”
The use of 1:1 devices allowed for self paced learning through Khan Academy support activities.
During an English class students were studying the holocaust and were in the process of demonstrating their understanding of concepts studied. Student using 1:1 devices were creating content using a storyboard type approach by writing statements that were supported with emotive imagery from the Internet.
A Year 6 English class were also on 1:1 devices and emailing individual mentors and experts via Telementor to support their Genius Hour type individual research project. Student were formulating appropriate questions and submitting them. A subscription service to science and other experts gave the students to make real world connections beyond their classroom.
The school explicitly values critical thinking, communication, collaboration and a creativity. An observation by the Principal was that while 1:1 devices enhance communication between users and act as an enabler, collaboration in the true sense is at risk of being diminished, hence a balance of explicit group work and face to face sharing is evident also.
STEM opportunities include Science Olympiad in over 20 events along with enrichment classes in model rocketry, LEGO robotics, flight simulation, Seaperch underwater robotics and traditional woodwork for example. 3D printing is becoming increasing popular and offers student a tool to develop complex special awareness and design skills through the construction of concrete materials.
21st century learning paradigms are an essential facet of STEM integration at Preston. Making connections to experts or students in other areas, states and countries is valued. It is not sufficient to simply become aware or increase knowledge but to ask yourself what have you done to help the world and make it a better place. STEM is one element that enables this.
I would like to thank all of the staff for making my visit rewarding and enjoyable. Special thanks go to Scott Neilson, John Howe, Amy Scheer and Tracey Winey for making me feel so welcome and taking the time to delve deep into the learning philosophies and practical implementation of STEM and 21st Century learning practices.