This is Part 2 of my STEM Lab Story. If you have not read Part 1, you can find it HERE.
Let's head back to December of 2015 for a few minutes. That is when I decided to leave my tenured 5th grade teaching job in Vista and take a grant-funded "STEM Lab" job in Oceanside, working with K-8 students on a military base. Kinda crazy to leave so much security and take a risk with a new position. However, I needed a change and felt like I was hitting the ceiling in my self-contained 5th grade classroom, as far as STEM related activities and innovation. So, long story short, although it was a risk, it definitely worked out for me and my teaching career.
When I first arrived at Stuart Mesa Elementary, the STEM Lab wasn't even completed yet. I actually was able to watch Creative Learning Systems build the STEM Lab (SMART Lab), set up the islands, and unpack the materials. And, how lucky was I that the Lab came with all the technology and supplies!
Check out the Google Earth Photo sphere of my STEM Lab HERE.
Once the STEM Lab was installed, I went through a week of training with Creative Learning Systems, then had a few extra days of support from them. I spent about a month organizing and learning as much about the Lab as I could, before ever seeing students. That is one thing that really helped me to be successful with the Lab, taking time to create a plan and familiarize myself with the kits, software, hardware, etc. If you are just beginning a lab or slowly piecing one together, take as much time as possible to develop your plan for success!
Creative Learning Systems also provides a curriculum, which I spent time getting to know. Since I was at a K-8 school, I had to figure out a plan for K-5, as well as a plan for 6-8 (the STEM Lab was an enrichment option for them). I familiarized myself with the curriculum for all grade levels, and methodically mapped out what K-5 and 6-8 would work on in the STEM Lab.
In addition to learning as much as possible about the STEM Lab, I also developed quite a bit within the Google Apps for Education (G-Suite) to supplement the lessons and activities. This included a STEM journal, which I created in Google Slides. There was one journal for grades 3-5 and another one for 6-8. The journal was my way of holding students accountable for their work in the STEM Lab. Each day students had to take a picture of their work, and write a reflection on their activity. They recorded the things that worked, as well as their failures and plans for next time. I distributed and collected the STEM journals through Google Classroom.
Since it was January 2016 by the time I officially opened the lab (Read about the Grand Opening HERE), I developed a plan for the remainder of the 2015/2016 school year. The 6-8 grade students would work through 15 different activities (one at each desk/computer) with a partner, spending about 3 days on each one. Students in grades 3-5 would work through 5 activities (one at each island) with 6 students working on the same activity at once. They would also work with a partner and spend 4 days on each activity. My little ones in K-2 visited the STEM lab once a week, and would have a 45 minute activity, whole class. The teachers in grades K-5 stayed in the Lab with the students, which was extremely helpful!
That's it for Part 2 of the STEM Lab story. Keep looking out for Part 3 to come out soon!
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All thoughts, opinions, reflections, and ideas are that of Heather Love-Fleck, and not the school district that employs her. She reserves the right to change her thoughts, opinions, reflections, and ideas at any time. Subscribe below!