District 54, Discovery Education team for STEM curriculum

  • Fox Elementary School sixth-grade students work on a presentation about the wellness center they designed for their school.

    Fox Elementary School sixth-grade students work on a presentation about the wellness center they designed for their school. Courtesy of District 54

Posted5/1/2019 12:10 PM

After going on a wellness walk around their school and researching ideal wellness centers, sixth-grade students at Anne Fox Elementary School in Hanover Park worked in teams to design a wellness center for their school, which they pitched to a panel of Fox staff.

Items in the student-designed wellness centers included trampolines, fidget toys, beanbag chairs and calm lighting.


"We don't want our wellness center to be a playroom," sixth-grader Julie said about her group's design. "In our wellness center, they can calm down, they can read, they can draw."

District 54 students are participating in more project-based learning lessons like this one, which are designed to ignite student curiosity and foster the skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical-thinking -- also known as the four Cs -- as part of the district's new partnership with Discovery Education.

"The buy-in has been amazing throughout the whole process as they learn about and create something tangible in response to something so important," said Fox Literacy Coach Julie Shapiro, a member of the school's Innovate 54 team.

District 54 is working with Discovery Education to provide students with an innovative STEM curriculum through a combination of professional development and digital content, including virtual field trips, streaming videos and web-based STEM Connect units with real-world challenges, career connections and hands-on activities.

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Discovery Education instructional coaches meet monthly with the Innovate 54 teams (10 to 12 staff members from every school) to share strategies and best practices for building and sustaining a culture of STEM in their schools and to challenge educators to think of ways to augment their instructional practices.

"We're inspiring students to solve real-world challenges, but also to approach issues with integrity," Discovery Education Coach Kate Voss said during a recent professional development session.

"We're providing them with a tool to collaborate, communicate and make those connections."

At each session, the coaches present a series of research-based instructional strategies drawing on Discovery Education resources to implement prior to the next session. The coaches also schedule classroom visits to support teachers between sessions.

"This support happens through co-planning and even co-teaching lessons to ensure our teachers feel confident with the new approaches they are implementing," Associate Superintendent Nick Myers said.


"Job-embedded professional learning experiences like these are the strongest form of professional development we can provide teachers. The results have been exceptional across the district. Our teachers feel supported, and our student engagement levels are as strong as they have ever been."

Hoover Math and Science Academy is one of the schools Voss supports. As fifth-grade teacher George Schaupp and gifted teacher/enrichment coach Keelin Franz prepared to co-teach a lesson on algebraic equations, they discussed with Voss strategies for fostering collaboration among students.

Voss suggested a strategy in which students explain the solution to their partner, who writes it down step by step without talking. After processing together, the students would reverse roles.

"Sometimes when a student sees what they are having their classmate write down, versus them writing it, they might realize it wasn't correct," Voss said.

Shapiro said that Josh Glessner, the Discovery Education coach working with Fox, suggested the strategy the sixth-graders were using to create their wellness center presentations: paper slideshows, which they recorded with iPads.

"It's good to keep in mind the overall goals and end product and have Josh to bounce ideas off of one on one," she said.

Discovery Education coach Shanelle DuBose, who works with Robert Frost Junior High School in Schaumburg, recently observed eighth-grade math teacher Allie Ancona working with a group of nine students who struggle with math. Ancona said she wants to help them improve their collaboration and communication skills, and DuBose shared some ideas.

"Building my students' confidence has been a huge goal of mine this year, and I'm so excited to take it to the next level with your suggestions," Ancona told DuBose.

"It's so helpful that the coaching is individualized," she said. "It's nice to get individual supports and strategies that I can implement immediately."

Schaupp said working one-on-one with a Discovery Education coach has had many benefits, the most significant of which is increased student engagement across the content areas.

"The strategies keep every student accountable for contributing thoughts and ideas, which leads to a meaningful, collaborative discussion," he said.

The job-embedded sessions effectively complement the monthly meetings, Schaupp added.

"We develop an understanding of how the strategies are to be implemented, but working one-on-one with Kate leads to a smooth transition to applying these same strategies within our classrooms," he said.

Franz said she has seen students starting to implement the strategies independently. They get excited when she announces a new one they will be trying.

"In our meetings, Kate suggests different strategies based on the needs of our learners and our goals for the lessons," she said. "It has been eye-opening to make small changes to my teaching that result in such large academic gains and engagement for my students.

"Kate's coaching sessions help us to bridge a connection between what we are already doing and where we want to go."