The photo above sums up my ImagineIT's main goal of bringing in more parent support in my students' pusuit of STEM! Besides strengthening bonds between my students and their families in encouraging more minorities and girls to pursue and actively engage in STEM opportunities, I have also strengthened the bonds with my colleagues and support from outside community resources. My afterschool STEM club has received support from a new partnership with a group of undergrad engineering students from Northwestern University's Engineers Without Borders Program, providing mentorship to about 20 sixth-eighth grade students who meet afterschool to cooperatively to research, design, engineer, and build models of futuristic cities as part of the National Future City Competition for middle school students. These students will participate in the Regional Competition held at University of Illinois Chicago. Our school's annual middle school science fair is being held on December 19th, and we are receiving tremendous support from over 2 dozen Scientists and Ph.D. students from Northwestern University's Science in Society Program to help judge our students' individual inquiry Science Projects.
Since meeting with colleagues in regard to my ImagineIT Goals, I have also strenghthened collaborative bonds with numerous other teachers to enhance the STEM opportunties for our students across other grade bands and disciplines at our school. We now have a team of teachers committed to fostering agricultural sciences in our school's outdoor school garden, and I am coplanning once again our school's Family Science Night and Community Energy Fair Event, which I started last year for the first time. I have also teamed up with our school's K-5th Grade Science Specialist to conduct cross grade level STEM activities and just last week some of our middle school students attended a field trip to Lincoln Park Zoo along with yournger students from primary grades. Our middle school students shared their enthusiasm with some primary grade classrooms and they also teamed up with Lincoln Park Zoo behavioral ecologists to particpate in a live Ethogram study of the zoo's active primates.
Final ImagineIT Phase 6 Report:
From reading Multimodality, Learning and Communication: A social semiotic frame (Bezemer & Kress), my greatest takeaway that impacts my ImagineIT project moving forward is that the world is changing so fast from new communications technologies such as robotics, quantum computing, and social media, that it is hard to predict what our students will face as adults when they are ready to enter their own chosen careers. So keeping my students, and for that matter, their parents too, engaged in and seeking more interests in STEM will require me to provide access and learning experiences for them that introduce them to such new technologies. As I am writing this, my students and I wrote a grant together to seek funding for VEX robotics kits that will allow them to explore directly in the basics of constructing, programming, and testing robots in a practical, cooperative, and FUN way!
My main takeaway from my focus group and teaching demo was integrating more hands-on STEM inquiry investigation along the road to learning through PBL. I took the advice of both a few colleagues and several students in planning new units of investigating STEM that involve more direct hands-on engineering activities. Such activities will include designing, constructing, and testing models of transportation devices that utilize various forms of altnerative energies such as solar, wind, and maglev. I have also since written and was awarded a grant for my 6th grade students to investigate with hands-on STEM kits that they will be able to take home and explore with their family members. This will culminate in a school-wide Energy/Science Expo at the end of the year where students will present to the greater community what they learned from experimenting at home together. This will help fulfill my main ImagineIT goal of strengthening the home-school connection with STEM through more engagement between my students and their parents.
My new insights are to just take risks and assign engaging at-home STEM activities for my students and their family members to do together. I have heard from several parents since being awarded the grant and piloting some activies with certain students who informed me that they are having so much fun learning toghether with their children, and they wished more teachers would do this kind of learning. I have also learned that parents are open to posting pictures and reports of their shared learning experiences with their children at home on our Google Classroom account. This has opened up new possibities for me to help make my students' learning, and for that matter, my teaching, a more publically shared experience!
One key item that stands out in my mind is that I now realize it will take more time to be able to integrate my ideas with my colleagues in other discipliens in terms of bringing in our students' parents more directly in the learning processes of our students. I believe this is because at the middle school level this type of parent engagement is not expected by the status quo, as opposed to what teachers seem to expect from students' parents when they are in the younger primary, and even middle grades.
One other item I know I need to change is my own fear of integrating more often newer technologies and apps in my students' learning and expressions of their learning. I have learned this through my continued participation in this program from our MSU instructors, all of whom share a passion for experimenting with multiple modalities of learning and expressing one's learning, which goes back to the book my Deep Play group read together.