I have learned many things over the course of this first year of my ImagineIT from my students, colleagues, parents, community partners, and our school’s new principal. From my peer and student focus groups, I learned that students definitely appreciate my willingness to “put myself out there” to try innovative STEM teaching methods that “allow students to use their own creativity”. Examples of this include having 8th grade students lead a school wide energy audit at our school and present out to the younger students, staff, and our Local School Council, which also includes community partners, to help spread what they are learning about energy conservation and efficiency methods that benefit our environment and can help our school save money on energy costs that hopefully can be allocated to more direct student purposes. Another example is taking the lead to partner with two of our schools special education cluster classrooms with my two 6th grade classes where students are collaborating with gardening and nutrition/culinary arts lessons together. Not only is this spreading STEM practices to more classrooms, but it also “helps to promote empathy and compassion for our diverse learners” and my colleagues and students said they appreciate this too and agree that it will help me continue to strengthen the impact of my ImagineIT across our school community.
From my school principal I have learned that all of this work done so far has many covert impacts, most notably, improvements in struggling students’ classroom behaviors. My principal has applauded me on numerous occasions for “having less in the way of discipline issues than other classrooms” and she attributes a lot of that to my efforts with my ImagineIT. Because of this, she is earning my trusts to lead more professional developments in the coming years at our school.
Lastly, from the community partnerships that I am currently establishing or strengthening at our school, such as Northwestern University’s Science in Society and Engineers Without Borders programs, I have learned that they receive feedback from my students where they are making more connections with Science and expressing increased positive interests in STEM as a future path for them as the transition into high school and beyond.
Taken together, all of these relationships both in and out of our school building, are reinforcing my commitment to providing highly relevant, engaging, and challenging STEM learning experiences for my students. I now better understand that it is a process that takes time and I now realize that I need to plan more carefully the endgame of STEM learning experiences and extracurricular partnerships for my students. My main goal is to increase interests amongst more of my students so that we can work towards steering more minority and female students into STEM pathways at an age when oftentimes kids begin to lose interests in Science, and sometimes school in general. My ImagineIT will continue to strengthen in the years ahead and I am excited for the future journeys with my students, their families, my colleagues, and the greater community that helps serve our school!