Three Years In

Fairview Elementary School rests in High Point, North Carolina, as part of Guilford County Schools. It is a Title-1, K-5 school with an inspiring dedication to STEM education. A majority (95%) of the school’s 417 scholars are minority students. After being awarded the Innovative Partnership Grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction three years ago, Fairview has moved forward tenaciously with three major goals in mind. These are: to improve math and science proficiency in grades 3-5 whilst setting up a base for younger learners, to decrease chronic absenteeism with support from external partner EdDirection, and to reconnect scholars to community opportunities in STEM through the Woz Ed Career Pathways.

The school gained Woz Pathway Status this past year and, already, there have been notable changes happening in the classroom, at the administrative level, and in the community. Fairview challenges scholars to integrate the “Fairview 5 for Instruction” in daily classes which directly correlates to the collaborative nature of The Woz ED curriculum. The school has also employed a skilled team to evaluate Data and Multi-Tier System of Support PLC’s. This will help determine the effectiveness of the program to prepare scholars for  future careers.

The goal is for families to learn about developing areas in High Point. Fairview is a prime example of working intentionally to meet goals and implement a program that prepares scholars for promising careers within their own community.

I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Fred Hoffmann, Fairview’s IPG Coach, along with two teachers who lead the after school drone program, Ms. Rachael Malatesta and Ms. Shannon Boone. These two have been major contributors to the success of STEM programs at Fairview. Shannon, with no prior STEM experience has learned quickly and finds Woz ED’s Drone Curriculum one that is easy to navigate. Rachael, who had a STEM focus in her masters program, was excited to enter a role that put her knowledge to use while also allowing her to continue learning.

The scholars at Fairview are thriving. The teachers have noticed more presence and ability to think in innovative ways amongst their scholars. Not only are they having fun, but they are learning essential skills that will serve them and their community in the future.

How Does it Work?

Fairview has its very own STEM teacher, Ms. Christian Sturgis, whom all K-5  scholars see once a week for forty-five minutes. With Sturgis, students use Woz ED kits in the STEM Lab. These include Engineering, Robotics, Coding, Animation, and 3D Printing. The media center at the school recently underwent a major upgrade. With the help of partner organizations, PowerUpEDU and MiEN Company, Smart TV’s, gaming systems, and several new 3D printers were installed. 

The Level One and Level Two Woz ED Drone Kits are taught in the after school program led by Ms. Malatesta and Ms.Boone, with Malatesta heading grades K-2  and Boone leading grades 3-5. This happens once a week. Currently each teacher has about 15 students scholars that attend every week. That is a significant turn out for a program that is “optional.”

A Neighborhood School that Provides Exposure

Although there are quite a few schools in North Carolina that have magnet programs featuring STEM subjects, these are usually reserved for high schoolers. Fairview, as a neighborhood elementary school, aims to create a clear path for scholars so that when the time comes to choose their district school or magnet program, scholars and their families will be better equipped to make decisions.

The earlier scholars are exposed to STEM, the better. As with most things, having a solid base to grow from is important for young people. Fairview recognizes this. Teachers and administrators at Fairview understand that they are directly impacting the next generation of people who will innovate and make a difference in the world. This highlights the school’s vision:

“Enhance life outcomes and raise achievement for all scholars with Integrity, Excellence, and Teamwork.”

Right next to the school lies the international furniture market, a bustling industry in North Carolina. Fred tells me that there is a huge opportunity for scholars to graduate and get jobs in the industry, especially with the skills they are learning. With digital animation skills, graphic design skills, 3D printing skills, and more, scholars have a toolbox for success in opportunities offered by a variety of local employers.  This way, scholars see that they don’t have to leave High Point in order to be successful. They can stay, contribute to a growing economy, make a living, and use their STEM knowledge daily.

A New Way of Thinking

Malatesta and Boone both agreed that the number one improvement that they’ve seen amongst their  scholars is an ability to solve problems differently and a zest for learning. As Boone puts it,

“It introduces them to things they may never have learned without it.”

She loves that it gives her scholars a sense of responsibility, as it not only makes her job easier, but also gives them confidence.

Boone shares her experience growing up in a neighborhood similar to High Point. She has continued to dedicate her time specifically to Title I schools because she knows how integral it is for scholars to have someone they can count on and trust in school. She aims to be that person for her scholars.

Ms. Malatesta has had the privilege of watching the same group of scholars advance over the last two years as she moved from teaching first grade to teaching second grade this year. She told me,

“In the first year, my class didn’t have very many problem solving skills. When I got a class this year that had been going to STEM and talking about how to solve problems, how to create, how to revise, I felt like they were able to persevere more in the classroom.”

She has noticed that, in general, scholars are never staring blankly at her when she asks them questions. There is a spark in their eyes and they are more willing to participate. She tells me that she was recently reflecting on her job and realized what a privilege it is to watch her scholars grow each year right before her eyes.

The Power of Intention and Setting Goals

Fred’s enthusiasm shines through him. When I talked to him, I could clearly see that he is dedicated to reaching the goals set in place by the Innovative Partnership Grant. Of course, he can’t make it happen alone. He has noticed ample support from Fairview Principal Fanisha Fuller, Fairview staff, Guilford County Schools’ educational leaders, PowerUpEDU, and Woz ED. Plus, the plethora of community organizations, such as, Growing High Point, NC A&T Joint School of Nanotechnology & Nanoengineering, High Point University, Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum, BrickEd, and more. There is a collaborative spirit present around Fairview that is integral to the success of any program.

He has noticed that since starting the program, as the team has progressed forward intentionally towards their goals, more and more people have walked through the doors of Fairview looking to contribute to their STEM ecosystem. He uses the example of another grant that the school recently stumbled upon with the help of Guilford County Schools’ Science and STEM Director, Dr Janiese McKenzie. Guilford County Schools wrote a grant for various schools across the district to implement an after school robotics program. Unbeknownst to Fred, Fairview was on the list and was eligible for this grant. Fast forward and they have used the money for a robotics program, promotional materials to increase school exposure, t-shirts to demonstrate school pride, and stipends to teachers. I like the way Fred put it,

“Once all the stakeholders interact with it, understand it, and start to experience it, more opportunities are coming everybody’s way.”

STEM is a buzzword these days. It seems to be used interchangeably to represent different things in different places. Fairview is focussed on delving into STEM in a way that moves past the acronym and ties concepts to real world applications. Hoffmann, Malatesta, Boone, Sturgis and the whole of Fairview Elementary School are excited to see what is in store for their scholars in coming years.

Published: February 02, 2024

Positive Updates

Since our last conversation with Albertville, the school district has continued to thrive in STEM education. In 2023 two of the district’s schools, Albertville Elementary and Albertville Intermediate, gained Woz ED Pathway Status. The district is consistently improving their STEM programming, training teachers, and preparing students for the next step, whatever that may be.

Spring Charles, Albertville’s Technology/STEM Instructional Coach has also taken a position with the district’s partner, PowerUp EDU, to bring Woz ED resources and other educational technologies to districts across the Southern United States. 

Teachers, such as Steven Lang and Ashleigh Brown, have stepped up their dedication to STEM Education across grade levels. With STEM labs, a summer program, and support from all players from Superintendent Bart Reeves and Assistant Superintendent Todd Watkins, teachers, and partner organizations, the district has continued to thrive. That last part is the key, as Ms. Charles says,

“You can’t have a successful program, if you don’t have good leadership behind you as a teacher supporting you. I’ve seen programs come and go and it’s hard. If the district is not excited about it, starting with your superintendent down to principals. Everybody that has a hand in has to be excited by the growth. If we all don’t play together, we can’t win the game. If we aren’t all on board it’s not going to work.”

Continuing Education at Summer Camp

Albertville has an impressive STEM summer camp that they have been building for the last few years. Here, students in grades one through six learn STEM concepts using Woz ED STEM Kits in Pathways such as Drones, Artificial Intelligence, Coding and Animation. They have started designing the camp to include upcoming first graders with the intent of creating a strong foundation for their young learners.

In the district’s half-day summer camp programs, teachers have smaller classes and are able to spend more quality time with the students as they learn. Teachers and STEM professionals are continuously improving the curriculum used at camp, testing different approaches and adding new technologies as they go.

The next step for the leaders of the summer program is to expand it, to add more activities, provide more spaces and resources, and make it available to more students.

The Star Players

Spring Charles tells me,

“If it wasn’t for the six STEM teachers, it would be hard to have a successful program. They are the backbone of this program.”

The six STEM teachers in the district have taken it upon themselves to lean into the materials, learn more, and try new things.

I had the opportunity to chat with two of these educators, Steven Lang, Albertville’s Intermediate STEM teacher and Ashleigh Brown, the district’s Primary STEM teacher. This is Brown’s first year teaching STEM. Before this, she taught first and second grade. She is motivated by the way her students bloom over time. She loves to see kids realize that they can do what they put their minds to. Lang, previously in Brown’s position, is now at the Intermediate School. He has seen the power of STEM in the way it inspires excitement amongst his students.

The Set Up and Outcomes

Mr. Lang and Ms. Brown walked me through the weekly STEM programming.

At the elementary level, the STEM programming operates on a bi-weekly schedule. Brown sees first graders once every two weeks and second graders in between. Her classes are forty minutes long.

They also utilize STEM kits in other classes. All teachers have access to the district’s STEM Bus and often take their classes there to inspire that explorative, playful spirit amongst the students. As more teachers are learning how to use Woz ED and PowerUp EDU resources, there is a wider use of these resources outside of the science and technology space. Brown’s favorite thing about her position is that she gets to witness certain students as they grown more confident,

“Once they realize it’s okay to make mistakes here and they learn how to collaborate to be successful by the time they walk out the door, that’s amazing to see.”

At Albertville Intermediate, Mr. Lang sees 850 students a week with four classes of fifth graders in the morning and four classes of sixth grade in the afternoon Monday through Friday. On Fridays, the school has a program called AGI Advantage where students who are falling behind get more one-on-one time with teachers. The reward for doing well in this course is that students can spend time in the Lab with STEM resources. Lang has found that this is a major motivator for students.

Albertville Intermediate hosted students and their families at a STEM night in December where Lang and his team set up stations, each within a different pathway, and the students went around competing in STEM challenges. They hope to be able to host more of these in coming months to get the community excited about STEM.

Up and Coming

Bart Reeves, Albertville’s new Superintendent, is fired up about STEM education. He has been a huge supporting force in the process of growing and improving Albertville’s STEM opportunities.

The district is focused on making their summer program the best it can be. They have seen the most interest and progress through this program. The next few years will be dedicated to reaching this goal.

Brown mentions her wish to start an after-school program and train more teachers in coming years. She has no doubt that this initiative will be supported by district leaders. Lang is excited to continue honing in on best practices and watching students as they become more collaborative, creative, and daring through STEM.

Charles is excited to know she has left a school district that she has worked in for 25 years to great teachers to keep doing great things in and out of the classroom. The STEM teachers are the heart of the STEM program. They work together from Kindergarten to High school to make STEM a prime focus in the district. Nothing is out of reach when it comes to Albertville City Schools.

Published: January 19, 2024

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.

Published: August 04, 2023

Next Generation Academy is a charter school located in Greensborough, North Carolina. It was established five years ago by Sam and Pam Misher, a couple who were both former teachers and administrators. Their primary objective in founding the school was to offer students an innovative education that would have positive effects on the wider community. They aimed to cater to students who may not have access to transportation, school lunch, technology, and career development opportunities.

Shortly after their start, Sam and Pam Misher began the journey to build up a robust STEM program at their charter school, understanding that this would serve as a catapult for their students into the future and give them a leg up in their professional development process. Their first step was to hire a versatile teacher capable of handling multiple responsibilities.

The man for the job was Mr. Haywood Stukes, a former high school teacher who is passionate about giving back to the young people of his community, and found an ability to do so in this role. Mr. Stukes has been a champion in learning new skills, from shifting gears to teach younger students to mastering new technology. 

PowerUp’s Role

PowerUp is the middleman in this equation. With close connections to both Next Generation and Woz ED, this dynamic team of educators has worked tirelessly to create a vertically aligned educational STEM program alongside leaders at Next Generation Academy. 

PowerUp is an educational company that offers technology resources, training, and guidance to schools across the Southern United States. Originally focused on providing interactive educational experiences through virtual glass panels, they have expanded their scope to encompass five key areas: early childhood literacy, professional learning, ESports, active learning, and STEM labs.

The collaboration between PowerUp and Next Generation began a few years ago when Dr. Sam Misher, seeking interactive technology for his classrooms, crossed paths with the PowerUp team. Given their expertise, it was a natural choice for Next Generation to enlist PowerUp’s assistance in developing a STEM program that would be easy to implement, scalable, and effective in creating more opportunities for their students. Around the same time, PowerUp superstar, Maggie Phillips, stumbled upon Woz ED and the fireworks went off.

With Next Generation’s visionary leadership, PowerUp’s knowledge of integrating technological resources into educational spaces, and Woz ED’s carefully organized STEM kits and curriculum, you have the perfect recipe for a well laid foundation in STEM.

Implementation of Woz ED

Next Generation is three years into the implementation of Woz ED pathways. The school purchased all ten pathways which are Drones, Cybersecurity, AI, Engineering Design, Animation, Robotics, Mobile Development, Coding, and Data Science. Students in grades K-5 attend one STEM class a week, and sixth graders attend two STEM classes a week.

Haywood Stukes was hired as the STEM teacher at Next Generation after taking a short hiatus from being a high school administrator. He has taken on the task of training and learning Woz ED technology so that he can better serve his students. Jerry Gaillard from the PowerUP team describes Mr. Stukes as a unicorn, effortlessly taking on hard tasks and learning new skills constantly. In the beginning, Mr. Stukes was the only STEM teacher, assisted by Mrs. Nancy Hazelman. Now, the two of them have split up to cover more ground and give the students more opportunities to learn STEM concepts.

Dr. Sam Misher tells me he’s not usually one for what he refers to as, “packaged programs,” where everything is inclusive. Woz ED changed his mind on that. He says,

“What I really liked about it was that I didn’t have to go out and find myself a certified technology teacher to be able to implement this program, it is all laid out and easy to follow.”

Another key outcome of implementing STEM with Woz ED kits and curriculum is that other teachers outside of the STEM department are starting to borrow lessons from Woz ED and thread it in with other subjects and learning standards.

In a recent analysis conducted by Maggie from PowerUp and Mrs. Pam Misher, they discovered that the Woz ED Level IV Animation Pathway covers all of the fifth-grade reading and writing standards in North Carolina. This dynamic and creative environment not only engages students in learning animation but also helps develop fundamental reading and writing skills through activities such as following written instructions and storytelling.

Now, the PowerUp team and Next Gen’s Academic Advising team are looking to line up other pathways with state learning standards. They have created what is called a “one note notebook,” where they are laying out each grade level, spacing out the pathways by level, and connecting the dots with learning standards for each subject such as science, math, and social studies. 

Ripples

Next Generation is a prime example of showcasing the impact of STEM education, not only on their students, but on their community. They are finding that this new curriculum is creating a ripple effect, starting with the students, extending to their families, and then slowly trickling out onto the greater Greensborough community.

In April of 2022, Next Generation and PowerUp put on their first Woz ED community day during enrollment season. Here, they split up the ten pathways into separate classrooms, each one modeling a lesson in STEM from drones to cybersecurity to mobile development. They then had current and future parents of their students cycle through these classrooms.

What they found was a profound impact on parents as they began to grasp the number of opportunities that these offerings were creating for their children, ones that they had never dreamed possible. Maggie says it beautifully,

“The parents were recognizing that their students, as early as kindergarten, were getting learning experiences that were going to catapult them in the future. In a community that is a high population density community, where a lot of those students don’t graduate, don’t matriculate into college, I think it was eye opening for the parents when we talked about the drone pathway and how the potential existed for these students to get their Part 107 License or make a significant income with a career in cybersecurity. Some of them were talking about wanting to learn these skills themselves.”

This community event not only brought in a large number of students, but, more importantly,  instilled in the community a newfound sense of hope.

Dr. Misher shared a heartwarming story with me about a particular student who, during Next Generation’s recent graduation ceremony, asked her parents where they would live because she wanted to stay at the school forever. Dr. Misher had taught this student’s grandmother, then her mother, and now her. He emphasizes that the most significant effect of Next Generation’s educational approach is that students feel loved and supported, which in turn brings happiness to their families. Witnessing this appreciation, gratitude, and joy span across generations is what it’s all about for him.

In the Works at Next Gen

There is a significant effort happening on the parts of the Mishers, STEM teachers, such as Haywood Stukes and Nancy Hazelman, the Next Gen Academic Advising Team, and the PowerUp team to expand and accelerate the deployment of Woz ED curriculum throughout the school. 

With the “one note notebook” initiative, there is a goal to create a STEM curriculum that seamlessly integrates North Carolina Learning Standards across the board. This will allow for more STEM classrooms and lessons throughout grade levels.

There is also a push for more on site training so that other teachers at Next Generation can learn how to use the STEM resources provided by Woz ED. Mr. Stukes believes that this training is key to successful implementation and scaling. He commented on how much these training sessions have taught him.

The school also has goals to add a seventh and eighth grade program in coming years that contains a continuation of the STEM curriculum. Dr. Misher notes how much the educational space has changed since he began as a math teacher in 1982. He says,

“I’ve had the opportunity to evolve along with it, and we want to prepare our kids to evolve and survive over the next 30 plus years as technology evolves.”

What is STEM? Re-evaluating the Dialogue

When I spoke with the PowerUp team, I asked what some of the largest challenges are in implementing new resources and programs. Maggie Phillips told me that STEM is a “buzzword” in education. On paper, every school and district wants a STEM program, but there is a lot of red tape when it comes to financials and logistics, and STEM is not a one size fits all concept. It is dependent on environmental factors, educational standards, and leadership. 

It is crucial to initiate discussions on the diverse forms STEM education can take in different environments. Debbie Gaillard, PowerUp’s marketing guru, emphasizes the importance of sharing stories and fostering a community of educators who collaborate to discover best practices in education.

It is common for individuals to become so engrossed in the happenings of their own schools that they sometimes forget they are contributing to the broader educational landscape across the nation. As educators, it is essential to ask the question: How can we continue to grow and share our growth with other schools and districts in order to create a positive transformation in the educational sphere?

STEM education, as Maggie tells me, is “really about equipping our students with those problem solving skills, the creativity, the critical thinking, the collaboration, and communication skills” necessary to go on and be successful in whatever path they choose, whether that be in a STEM field like engineering or cybersecurity, in a creative profession, or in parenting.

When educators approach STEM lessons with this mindset, they can view the new technological resources as tools to help students develop foundational skills and explore both current and future technologies. As Haywood Stukes told me,

“The concept of STEM is only going to progress within any of the chosen fields that these students pursue. They are going to be exposed to more and more technology and, once they graduate, most careers have one or more of these facets of technology involved that they will be required to know. Learning this early, they will adjust to the fact that this is the way of the world right now.”

Published: June 02, 2023