News

Why this one STEM course has four different teachers

By Patricia A. Wargo
April 26th, 2016

stem-artificial-island

A STEM rotation model engages students in multifaceted projects with real-world implications

What does it mean to truly apply classroom knowledge? Years ago, application meant a comprehensive exam or essay. In today’s educational environment, students are encouraged to apply what they’ve learned, not just on tests, but during multifaceted, multimedia projects that bring relevance to lessons and help students realize how their learning is used every day in the real world.

Walking into one of our four STEM classrooms at Huntingdon Area Middle School, you won’t see students working quietly on worksheets. They’ll be huddled up in small groups, collaborating, brainstorming, critically thinking about how to solve the world’s problems. The expertise of four diverse teachers from different disciplines created a project-based, rotation model that has given middle school students a new realization that skills they learn in a classroom can be found in real-life situations, not just on a test.

In the summer of 2015, the district asked a technology teacher, a library media specialist, a math teacher, and a science teacher to create a STEM course that would be part of the students’ daily class schedule. The teachers decided to split their 100 students among the four of them and rotate every three days. Over the course of a nine-week project, students would use knowledge from all four teachers to finish their multifaceted, cross-curricular projects.

The ‘Big Picture’

Undertaking a large project over a long period of time helped students digest content in smaller doses while allowing each teacher’s strengths to shine during specialized and focused lessons.

“If I were to keep the same 25 kids for a semester, they’d have a great experience with aspects of science,” Samantha DeMatteo, the science teacher, told me. With the rotation, she added, students “are able to spend a few days focusing on other subjects in reference to the same project. Each day they can build on what they’ve already learned, which brings them one step closer to their goal: completing the project.”

Teachers and students recently completed their second project of the school year, which we called “Artificial Island Real Estate Agent.” Students created a 3D model of their island using scale drawings, rocks, and sand. The project also included research essays on environmental impacts, volume and mass calculations, and a comprehensive marketing plan to attract people to their newly created island. At the end of the project, students created models, brochures, drawings, and videos to guide a group presentation that they delivered to an audience of 100 of their peers.

Next page: How the rotation benefits time-management