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Every great lesson begins with a great story. It is how a reader can make relatable connections, understand conflict, and make predictions with each turn of the page. Little Elm ISD fourth graders are reading the story, “Water, Water Everywhere: Designing Water Filters”, the introduction to a STEM Challenge students are working on in class. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is the final challenge, out of four STEM Challenges, every fourth grader in Little Elm ISD has engaged in this year. All fourth and fifth grade students have access to STEM opportunities as part of the District’s STEM initiative at every campuses.
“In addition to our fourth grade STEM Challenge, fifth graders are cleaning up an oil spill,” said Jennifer Bernabo, District science coordinator. “That is the STEM Challenge for fifth grade. Although they are different in topic, every lesson in each STEM Challenge is designed the same way: it begins with a story about a child experiencing a problem who is seeking a solution. Lessons two, three, and four are focused on evaluating, experimenting, and building as it ties to the story. This helps our students make connections where they can see themselves thinking about possible solutions alongside the character.”
The difference between a science project and a STEM project is the engineering process where students ask, imagine, design, and build. “For example, as fourth graders work on their water filters, they will take a look at the environmental engineering process and analyze water quality,” said Bernabo. “Their project will have been through the trial and error process once they reach lesson three and four of the challenge.”
Last spring, the District announced they would be implementing STEM curriculum at every campus and embedding it in every fourth and fifth grade classroom. Prestwick STEM Academy pioneered STEM curriculum in the District since opening in 2014. Since then, it has been the District’s commitment to provide the same opportunities to each student no matter which campus they attend. In this inaugural year, STEM can be found at Brent, Chavez, Hackberry, Lakeview, and Oak Point Elementary schools.
When the District opens its two new middle schools in the fall of 2020, Prestwick will transition to Prestwick Elementary; a recommendation made by administrators and voted and approved on by the Board of Trustees at the March school board meeting. Daniel Gallagher, superintendent explained to board members "We will not stop teaching STEM to kindergarten through fifth grade at Prestwick Elementary when the name changes. In fact, we believe in what Prestwick is doing that we have expanded it across the District to provide the best no matter what zip code you live."
“I think when you walk into these classrooms where STEM is taking place no matter which campus, you’re going to witness our students experiencing the engineering process. That is our intent, we want all of our students to have the same opportunities and I believe it is only going to get better,” said Dr. Ashley Glover, executive director for Educational Services.
So far this year, students have been presented with four STEM Challenges. In fourth grade, challenges included designing energy products, designing alarm circuits, evaluating landscapes, and building solutions to environmental issues. Fifth graders have worked on projects to include replicating artifacts, designing light, designing floating and sinking, and building solutions to ecosystem issues. The District will continue to provide STEM curriculum to fourth and fifth graders for the upcoming school year.