How this innovative district is preparing students for STEM careers

By Emily Garner
June 19th, 2015

A curriculum that’s getting some students to take a practical look at science

stem-careerWhen you ask high school students in Lake County, Illinois, what their career goals are, you may be surprised by how many of them answer “scientists.” However, the associate superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for Community High School District 117, Dr. David Bain, isn’t surprised at all.

“Our community values science and the district has always been innovative in our instruction”, said Dr. Bain, a former scientist. “We’ve adopted an authentic, hands-on pedagogy that encourages students to explore, ask questions, and discover answers in ways that practicing scientists do every day.” That has led to nearly every student taking at least one AP course, with over 50 percent taking AP or advanced electives in science before graduation and 40 percent of the district’s students identifying themselves as future science majors.

Even though the district had such a strong foundation in the sciences, during the summer of 2014 Dr. Bain was concerned about the transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards. In particular, he felt like the district’s existing curriculum lacked the types of authentic science tasks needed to build students’ skills. He was also frustrated with the science assessments that were being used to authentically measure the practices of science and the students’ understanding of cross-cutting concepts, as described in the NGSS. Dr. Bain wanted assessments that gauged students’ abilities to analyze problems, create experiments, and problem solve.

Performance tasks

In Dr. Bain’s search for what he wanted for District 117’s teachers and students, he stumbled upon Defined STEM, a computer-based STEM curriculum that encourages students to take a closer look at science and tech careers. The first thing that attracted his attention were the types of careers that Defined STEM uses in its videos and lessons. According to Dr. Bain, “Most science curricula use the well known science careers, like doctors and forensic scientists. Defined STEM goes beyond those stereotypes and shows students a wider range of possibilities. Jobs like building rooftop gardens or a wind technician. These show students real, everyday uses of science.”

Next page: Folding in Next Gen. Science Standards