STEM Symposium showcases new curriculum for Berkner system

Last year, when Texas Instruments awarded RISD a $4.6 million grant to help create a STEM feeder pattern within the Berkner High School attendance zone, Superintendent Jeannie Stone said the district was “all-in” on the program.

“We are committed to changing the culture within the Berkner feeder pattern through STEM-infused curriculum that ensures academic rigor, student engagement and relevancy across the entire curriculum,” Dr. Stone said then. “RISD strives to inspire students from their very first day of school to explore and cultivate their interests to pursue a career pathway through a STEM culture.”

Last week, educators from more than 20 school districts across five states gathered at Berkner to see the program in action.

RISD plans to reshape the teaching and learning of these subjects across all grade levels in the Berkner feeder pattern to better prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success. Discovery Education is facilitating implementation of the STEM program.

“There are 4 million science and tech jobs in the U.S., and we are coming up with different ways to fill those positions,” Discovery Education VP of Global STEM Cindy Moss says. “We need to stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, and start asking them: ‘What kind of problems do you want to solve?’ We want to help kids create a portfolio from Pre-K through 12th grade to show potential employers what kind of problems they’ve solved,” Moss said. “More and more, employers are hiring non-college graduates who are problem-solvers. Employers want to know ‘What can you do?’ not ‘What school did you go to?”

Moss believes STEM education imparts skills beyond science, technology, engineering and math. She said the problem-solving skills necessary to learn and excel at STEM also help students recognize the difference between fake news and actual facts, for example.

Paula Rilling is the Berkner science department chair. As a high school teacher, she calls herself the end user for public education.

She said the district’s STEM For All is a transdisciplinary approach and not a zero-sum game wherein Humanities and Arts teaching suffers as STEM subjects flourish.

“It’s exciting and engaging for teachers across the board,” Rilling said at the symposium. “Our Discovery Ed STEM-trained teachers have shown other teachers how to bring it into classrooms; the culture shift is happening.”

She thanked the Discovery Education team for meeting RISD educators where they are in the process, which is a critical part of any professional development, according to Rilling.

While the $4.6 million grant from Texas Instruments has the long-term aim of creating a stronger-skilled STEM workforce for North Texas and beyond, the goal over the next three years will be focused on helping RISD build and implement the STEM for All concept in the classroom.

The grant also will help the district work with postsecondary education partners in business and industry to ensure relevancy and sustainability of the concept.

The Berkner attendance zone includes 16 campuses with more than 10,000 students from 80 different countries.

Melissa Hampton is director of professional learning at Discovery Education. She assured educators that the program includes the latest, high-quality technological learning. The company is utilizing its Streaming Plus tool that “brings the real world into the classroom.”

Helen Arceneaux, a second-year science teacher at Liberty Junior High, confirmed as much when she mentioned how she conferenced in a cardiologist from Harvard one day during a lesson on heart health.

Helen said she couldn’t explain how valuable the STEM program has been for her and her students, who are “now running to my class to try to be the first one in.”

She said her seventh and eighth graders are now designing and implementing their own lessons; some in escape-room style.

Arceneaux said meeting one-on-one with a coach each month has been invaluable and there is no way she would be considering gamification, students implementing their created lessons, or student-led research as a second-year teacher if it wasn’t for Discovery Education.

Brandon Handy, a third-grade science and writing teacher at Richardson Terrace Elementary, said he is especially impressed by how the STEM culture weaves itself into every subject within the school.

He said the transdisciplinary nature of STEM is having a real effect on how lessons are planned and geared to specific careers.

“The STEM Connect robust lessons are something we cannot afford to miss,” Handy said.