The STEM Integration Project, an innovative collaboration between the Charles E. Smith Lower School and The George Washington University, is well underway! The aim of this project is to create, implement and disseminate an integrated, STEM-rich Lower School (JK-5) curriculum, using the Next Generation Science Standards Crosscutting Concepts as an organizing principle and, through associated professional development, establish CESJDS as a leader in STEM education.
In deciding how to move forward with this important work, we look to the concept of research-practice partnerships. The Research+Practice Collaboratory, a National Science Foundation-funded effort to understand how teachers and researchers work together toward creating more equitable STEM education, identifies nine key components of a research-practice partnership (Education Development Center, 2015):
- an equitable relationship between teachers and researchers
- clear roles and expectations for all participants
- collaborative identification of the pressing problem or challenge to be addressed
- a shared language for communicating about that problem or challenge
- collaborative brainstorming of possible solutions
- a continuous cycle of inquiry while implementing solutions
- the discovery of key results and findings
- communicating those findings to the local and broader education community, and
- opportunities to involve multiple stakeholders throughout the entire process
These components aren't established all at once, but rather develop over time as the partnership grows and matures. Following the announcement of the STEM Integration Project in September 2016, our first step was to create the Curriculum Integration Leadership Team ("CILT'). The team consists of teachers representing multiple grades and content areas at the Lower School, as well as school leaders and GW faculty. CILT meets weekly throughout the school year to work on our curriculum integration efforts. Sometimes, we focus more on research. For example, we discussed Rabbi Mitch Malkus's article, The Curricular Symphony: How One Jewish Day School Integrates Its Curriculum, to understand how school structures can support integration efforts. Other times, we focus more on practice. At the most recent CILT meeting, we brainstormed ways to update each other about how we are using crosscutting concepts in our classroom (e.g., via bulletin boards and by visiting each other's classes). But in most of our meetings, we are studying lesson plans and student work, trying to build a shared sense of what meaningful integration looks like. To understand how third grade students use the idea of cause and effect to make sense of a story, or how fifth graders apply systems thinking to understand social revolutions—these are pivotal questions for research and practice.
Four members of the CILT team (Sharon Barad-CESJDS, Erin Magee-CESJDS, Beth Short-GW, and Alexis Soffler-CESJDS) have submitted a proposal to share more about the GW-CESJDS partnership at the National Science Teachers Association STEM Expo in summer 2018. We look forward to more cycles of collaborative inquiry, and sharing our results, in future blog posts!
Dr. Tiffany-Rose Sikorski is an Assistant Professor in GW's Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy.