Texas School District Uses STEM to Transform Teaching and Learning

By Kyndra J. Johnson, Executive Director of STEM and Innovation, Richardson Independent School District

Richardson Independent School District integrates STEM learning opportunities at every grade level to ensure more students, particularly females and minorities, will be prepared for the high-growth STEM fields 

Richardson Independent School District (RISD), one of Texas’ leading school systems since its establishment in 1854, is located north of Dallas, Texas. RISD is home to 54 campuses across four feeder systems that span the cities of Richardson, Dallas, and Garland. The mission of RISD is to ensure that ALL connect, learn, grow, and succeed through relevant and personalized learning experiences. Building on a rich tradition of excellence, strong parent engagement, and the support of area businesses and the community, RISD consistently achieves academic success. In 2015, under the auspices of Superintendent Jeannie Stone, RISD established a district goal of having 100 percent of our students graduate with three hours of college credit and a license or certification. This goal was the impetus for the design and development of our Future-Ready: STEM for ALL plan.

To identify potential areas of opportunity that would support the district’s postsecondary readiness goals, RISD undertook a course of research that illuminated how STEM experiences can help prepare students to graduate with college credits and 21st century skills. Our findings also revealed that STEM education is critical to the ultimate success of our young people as STEM jobs in the United States have grown twice as fast as other fields since 2016.

Unfortunately, we continue to see a shortage of both interested and adequately prepared K-12 students in STEM subjects, especially among minority students and young women. To meet the demands of the changing world and develop the leaders of tomorrow, RISD set out on a journey to prepare our students to be future-ready through inspiration, exploration, and cultivation of STEM learning opportunities that begin in early childhood grades. To reach this goal, we chose to begin our effort, called the Future-Ready: STEM for ALL implementation, in the Berkner High School feeder system. This feeder system was the perfect choice for the implementation of this initiative as the Berkner High School had been a Texas STEM (T-STEM) academy since 2007.

Foundation

The Berkner STEM Learning Community (BSLC) is comprised of 13 K-6 elementary schools, two 7-8 junior high schools and a comprehensive high school. Over 10,000 students are served through the Berkner feeder pattern. The students in this learning community represent over 80 different countries and speak 36 different languages. The BSLC demographic mirrors that of the larger district with the student body identified as approximate equal parts African-American, Hispanic and White/Caucasian. In addition, 57 percent of the BHS feeder pattern is supported by Free and Reduced Lunch, while the district currently supports 54 percent free and reduced-price Lunch. To implement Future-Ready: STEM for ALL, RISD committed to changing the  culture and pedagogy within the Berkner STEM Learning Community.

Mission Driven Leadership

Leading a school or district that regularly creates learning environments and experiences that foster critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity takes an uncommon approach to school leadership. With a purpose and vision for the Berkner Feeder System, RISD convened a design team of teachers, principals, central office leaders and business professionals, to discuss the Foundation, Outreach, and Sustainability of our STEM implementation. I came aboard the RISD team at this time as the Executive Director of STEM and Innovation to lead our STEM for All initiative. 

Together, this group envisioned that the STEM for All initiative will provide students with advanced STEM-focused academics, STEM learning experiences, and the support needed to graduate high school more prepared than ever for college and career success. In addition, it was decided that RISD’s STEM for ALL will engage students in rigorous, relevant, inquiry-based, technology-rich learning experiences that promote their college and career readiness.

During the 2017-18 school year, our Future-Ready: STEM for ALL plan caught the attention of the Texas Instruments Foundation, resulting in a $4.6 million dollar grant award to design and implement a teaching and learning model that provides access to STEM education for all students. The multi-million dollar investment from Texas Instruments Foundation, intended to support our implementation over the next 3 years, will advance and sustain our efforts in STEM, is helping RISD apply a laser-like focus on the following key impact areas to accomplish STEM for ALL:

  • Postsecondary Success
  • Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment
  • Talent Development and Retention.

Additionally, RISD is leveraging the technical assistance of Educate Texas, the public-private initiative of Communities Foundation of Texas, and the relationships with networks of practitioners, industry, and community to carry out the activities outlined in our plan.

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Richardson ISD made a significant organizational and financial commitment towards the total revision of the curriculum and instruction design of our schools including a 1:1 Chromebook rollout at secondary school sites and a 1:1 iPad rollout at elementary school sites during the 2017-18 school year. This critical step was the catalyst for launching a new technology-driven, multidisciplinary STEM curriculum that ensures our students are able to identify and solve real-world problems and is centered on career exploration and college preparation.  RISD has partnered with Discovery Education to provide engaging, high-quality digital resources that will create dynamic STEM learning environments, as well as sustained, job-embedded professional development for teachers and leaders. Support from Discovery Education, with whom we’ve partnered for over 10 years continues to help educators evolve their instructional practice and integrate technology more deeply into classroom activities. In addition to the partnership with Discovery Education, we have designed a multi-tiered system of STEM educator support for the training and implementation of STEM-Project Based Learning instruction. This strategy is providing more rigor and specificity to the curriculum and offers students more opportunities to extend their learning beyond the classroom through STEM business partnerships, STEM industry mentors/internships, and STEM related field trips and experiences, in real time and virtually.

Outreach

Our unique district culture is inspiring our students, allowing them to explore their interests, and cultivate their passion as they pursue a STEM career pathway. In the Berkner STEM Learning Community, STEM is who we are, not something we do! 

Our innovative STEM to Home program was designed not only to facilitate community and parent awareness of our Future-Ready: STEM for ALL initiative, but also to engage in STEM through the following experiences:

  • STEM backpack kits that are designed to align with the STEM curriculum and support STEM-Project Based Learning.
  • The STEM Squad – mobile team of Berkner High School students facilitating STEM activities that allow younger students to explore STEM.
  • Multiple STEM Showcases so that the community can see firsthand the growth of our Future-Ready: STEM for ALL plan.

Student Field Experiences

Being Future-Ready is defined by student mastery of our five Learning Outcomes, a STEM mindset, and in our belief that our students are inspired to explore future career opportunities when they can observe and interact in the “RealSpace” of business and industry. Our STEM initiative includes field experiences for all students elementary through high school that connect to business partners, museums/play spaces, and higher education entities, and offers job shadowing opportunities, internships, and even externships for teachers.

Sustainability

Future-Ready: STEM for ALL is supported by every facet of the district from the Superintendent to the School Board to our community to our parents. RISD has forged strategic alliances with business partners and leveraged the thought leadership of Educate Texas to gather additional resources that will accelerate and sustain our Future-Ready: STEM for ALL implementation. As a district, we currently have over 300 business partners and continue to seek out new partners to support our students and staff. Another critical factor in sustaining our efforts is integrating students’ voices into our efforts. At the beginning of the school year, we surveyed students from grade 3-12 for their thoughts on STEM and how they learn in school. By polling our students we gain valuable information that aids in planning and implementation, and ensures that we continue to dedicate human and financial resources so ALL students can be inspired to see what is possible for their future, and cultivate their gifts, talents, and passions.

RISD’s “STEM for ALL” mission reflects our commitment to preparing students for careers of tomorrow by embedding STEM concepts and experiences all along the learning journey, from pre-kindergarten through high school graduation. Looking ahead, RISD will continue to emphasis STEM to ensure that we have diverse and engaging programs and learning opportunities that meet the unique needs of ALL of our students.

Follow Kyndra J. Johnson on Twitter @kyndra_johnson, @RISD_STEM4ALL, or contact her at kyndra.johnson@risd.org.  

Story courtesy of Discovery Education.

 

Berkner student using laptop