Winona Middle School (WMS) needs to do more to train its teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) methodology, members of the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board say.
WMS Principal Mark Anderson gave a presentation to the board on April18 on the progress of the STEM program at the school. At issue was whether the school was doing enough to train faculty on STEM methods to infuse the approach into classwork.
"Give us some concrete examples of where you're going," board member Ben Barrato said to Anderson.
Anderson told the board the school currently has 50 STEM-related activities taking place and gave examples of hands-on labs driven by students' curiosity.
"Isn't professional development one of the basic building blocks for our success?" asked board chair Mohamed Elhindi. "Now Mark, when have we done professional development in insuring the STEM program and becoming a 21st-century school?"
"We're doing it everyday," Anderson replied. "They did that before I was even at the middle school. I bet they were doing that when Dr. Hannon was there. This year in PLCs [teacher collaboration groups] we had teachers talking about how their classes can relate to each other." For example, students may write research papers in Language Arts classes that relate to labs they are doing in science class, Anderson explained.
"Is that staff development?" Barrato asked. "Staff at Nelson's school actually went to school in summer."
"A lot of it came from within," interjected Jefferson Elementary Principal Mathew Nelson. "A lot of time was spent doing what Dr. Anderson is talking about, sitting around the table and making those connections," he added, referring to Jefferson Elementary School's expansion of STEM programming to all classrooms. Nelson and a core group of Jefferson teachers who were trained in STEM worked to train their peers leading up to that expansion.
In 2012, the district spent just under $220,000 on professional development for teachers district-wide. In October 2012 the board approved around $30,000 in professional development spending for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), groups in which teachers get together to share ideas. Fifty teachers were paid $600 each to facilitate three PLC meetings.
WAPS Curriculum Director Jenny Bushman explained that middle school staff did do professional development involving STEM at Winona State University.
"If I remember right we were talking about sending the teachers out of the district to study STEM concepts," Barrato said. He continued, "We talked about sending them elsewhere and they went to WSU."
"If you send them elsewhere, it's drive-thru," Nelson said. "'Here's your food, go do it.' Whereas if you do it the way we did with our expansion, it's sustainable."
Elhindi reiterated the board's concern. "The piece I'm not seeing is—I was always under the impression that there was some foundation for professional development. You have to train the trainers. They don't just get developed in a vacuum."
Elhindi called for a focused, comprehensive development plan for STEM at WMS.
In an interview with the Winona Post, Elhindi said, "There is a need for outside, fresh ideas. What the board is saying is missing is the professional development itself." He added, "The board is looking for an expert in the field that can enhance the current program." STEM at WMS is in "very early stages," he said.
In an interview with the Winona Post, Anderson said that the school is seeking to bring in STEM experts from Hamline University to train a core group of WMS science, home economics, industrial technology, and art teachers on STEM methodology. Those areas, Anderson said, offer great opportunities for the inquiry-based, hands-on learning style that defines STEM, and will enable the school to infuse that kind of learning in all areas. He agreed that the program is in its early stages. However, he pointed out that the school has had lots of new initiatives to take on in the two years he has been principal there. Leading faculty in so many new initiatives is not always easy for a new administrator, he explained. "We have to have buy-in from staff," he said. The school can only take on so many initiatives at once, he said. "We need to make sure that when we start something we follow through and finish."