Provide a general description of the learning experiences in which the STEM students were most successful.  Additionally, generally describe the learning experiences that need improvement for greater student success.

At Bates Middle School, STEM integration is a part of the daily teaching and learning pedagogy. Therefore, all students have access to and participate in STEM activities that are aligned to content standards both in and out of the classroom setting. Our current population is 78% African American, 19% Caucasian, 2% Hispanic, and 1% other. We have a 50% male and 50% female population. 106 students have chosen to come to Bates in our district open enrollment program for the 2019- 2020 school year. During our annual strategic planning process, our faculty and staff continue to embrace the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate by adding expectations for middle-level learners with the goal of creating highly productive students prepared for the rigor of high school. We have three goals to increase student achievement at our school:

  • Increasing student interest, participation, and achievement in STEM.
  • Expanding student access to effective STEM instruction.
  • Building community awareness and partnership support for STEM.

Our launch into STEM Project Based Learning began in the Spring of 2017 with grade level units of study based on relevant real-world problems. Students presented and defended their positions at our first Excellence Fair. This success in STEM PBL continued the next year with all of our PBL classes engaging in the school-wide Great Kindness Project in which several of our classes gained recognition in our local newspaper. In the Spring of 2018, PBL classes completed a unit of study of their choice selected by the students, and then “Passion” or “Genius” projects individually or in small groups. Bates Middle School was awarded the 2018 National PTA STEM + Families Tech Night Grant, sponsored by Microsoft. This grant allowed us to build robotic hands and fingers with our students and their families at our Microsoft STEM Family Night and Excellence Fair. Students presented and defended their 2017-2018 PBL projects at this time. One student group created and ran a food truck at the fair with all that the business entails. Class, grade level, or school-wide PBL units and public fairs have continued with great success at our school. Our current PBL is the Census 2020. The public fair for this will be October 29. 2019 and again in April of 2020. Students have been very engaged and successful with their PBL units.

Our 8th grade science students participated in the Cubes in Space program. Cubes in Space, a program by idoodledu inc., is a global competition for students 11-18 years of age to design and propose experiments to launch into space or a near space environment on a NASA sounding rocket and zero-pressure scientific balloon. In this program, students design an experiment, create scientific diagrams of the experiment and submit the proposal and diagrams as components of the Application for Spaceflight. If selected, they implement the experiment into a cube that will then be launched into space or near-space and analyze the results upon its return. We had an individual student experiment picked to launch on a NASA sounding rocket and another student group experiment picked to launch on the zero-pressure scientific balloon. This was a great accomplishment. The experiments were returned to Bates after their return to Earth for students to analyze the effect of the launch and travel time in near-space or space.

Our BioBantams student club identified the problem that many pollinator species are declining and the loss of habitat that provides sites for overwintering, foraging for pollen and nectar, or nesting can be detrimental to these species. The students embraced the challenge of creating a butterfly pollinators garden on our campus. As a team, they schedule time to design, plant and tend the garden. Their work has involved mathematics (e.g., calculations for the spacing of plantings, design of the garden), science (e.g., research on plants such as when and how to plant, what grows well in our environment), as well as collaborative problem-solving. They also researched the best native plants for pollinators, met with a horticulturist, and toured a butterfly garden at a local park. The garden earned the distinction of a Nationally Certified Wildlife Habitat in the spring of 2019.

We began a partnership with physics professor Dr.Chang at the University of South Carolina – Sumter campus during the 2018-2019 school year. Dr. Chang comes twice a month to our school to facilitate physics lessons with all of our 8th grade students. She was our opening speaker and a presenter at our NASA Family STEM night in the Fall of 2018. We issued our 8th graders a pre and post STEM KAP (Knowledge, Attitudes, Perceptions) survey. The percentage of 8th graders who answered “yes” to the pre-survey question of “In the future, do you plan to take advanced classes in science?” increased from 38.1% to 52%. The percentage of 8th grade students who answered that they are interested or very interested in the subject of physics or a future physics occupation increased from 31.2% to 42%. This relationship continues during the 2019-2020 school year with the bi-monthly lessons and her assistance in planning our physics outreach to the 4th graders in our district in April 2020. We began the physics outreach to 4th graders in the Spring of 2019 in which our 8th grade students lead 4th grade students at a feeder elementary school in hands-on physics activities. This program will be expanded in the Spring of 2020 to include all of the 4th graders in the district and will be held at USC-Sumter, one of our local colleges.

We currently have 31 elective classes based on student and teacher interest, and our school STEM goals. These classes include Project Lead the Way courses, computer science, Financial Literacy, STEM Tech and many more. Our autism class works with one of our therapy dogs in training, Bantam, as well as with certified therapy dogs brought to the school by the Paws for Friendship organization. In addition, in our elective Dog Character course, students will work with our other two therapy dogs in training, Serenity and Journey. All of our elective classes incorporate STEM Mindedness with the 4C’s and problem-based learning.

We facilitate both project-based and problem-based learning in our classes. Since our lessons are standards-based, there is a restriction to plan lessons that incorporate student preference for learning. Our goal is to be able to increase student preference and choice making during STEM lessons. We currently do well on choice of product and presentation but would like to expand student choice of topics and processes in which they learn. Our goal is to provide more personalized learning opportunities for our students. In addition, although our students have multiple opportunities to present their STEM learning to a range of stakeholders within and outside of the school, we want to expand on students defending their thinking and receiving valuable feedback from experts.

Provide examples of how the STEM educators and facilitators implement and sustain the core tenets of an effective and age-appropriate STEM curriculum.

Bates Middle School works to ensure continued student achievement through community involvement, effective teaching practices, ongoing professional development, and academic rigor for our students. In the fall of 2018, Bates was selected to attend the Teach to Lead Summit to create an action plan to expand teacher and student knowledge of STEM Mindedness. At this summit, we created a theory of action and a plan of implementation in which we identify stakeholders, resources, and actions needed to achieve our goals. Under this theory of action, we strive to include STEM mindedness in all of our classes through the use of the 4 C’s: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Theory of Action: “If we fully coordinate and align our school’s policies, practices, and partners to increase student interest, participation, and achievement in STEM, expand student access to effective STEM instruction, reduce our gap in STEM access, and build community awareness and support for STEM, then we will increase the quality of STEM mindedness and overall student achievement levels.”

Bates began our journey to transform into a STEM school in the Spring of 2016. At this time, we began to research how to transition from a MYP IB school to a STEM accredited school. Our research led us to find Saluda Trails Middle School and the TransformSC network. Saluda Trails had successfully transitioned from an MYP IB school to an AdvancED STEM Accredited school. TransformSC, an education initiative of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, is a collaboration of business leaders, educators, students, parents, and policymakers transforming the public education system so that every student graduates prepared for careers, college, and citizenship. We attended the TransformSC Spring Conference to learn of innovative practices occurring in South Carolina and met the administrators and several staff members from Saluda Trails. We brought this information back to our staff who voted to begin this transformation. At this time we arranged and conducted a site visit at Saluda Trails to learn about their STEM program and began the process of becoming a TransformSC school. We began in-house STEM professional development.

In the Fall of the 2016-2017 school year, we successfully became a TransformSC school. The Principal and Instructional Coach from Saluda Trails retired and formed a consultant group, Educators Today. At this time, we acquired the services of Educators Today to facilitate year long professional development on STEM and project based learning (PBL). Interdisciplinary grade level groups worked together to form our first Project Based Learning units. These PBL’s were implemented in the Spring of 2017 and students presented their work at our first Excellence Fair. This fair was well attended and began our process to build community awareness and support for STEM We added Multimedia Basics, Drama, and Musical Theatre courses to our master schedule. We also added embedded bi-monthly club days to our master schedule to increase student interest, participation, and achievement in STEM. Students attended two different clubs per month.

During the 2017-2018 school year, we continued our journey by embedding daily PBL classes to our master schedule to increase student interest, participation, and achievement in STEM and PBL. We also kept the bi-monthly club days. We added a coding course and the Science Olympiads students competition club was formed as we continued our goal to expand student access to effective STEM instruction. We continued to conduct site visits to established STEM and PBL schools including Saluda Trails Middle School, Rock HIll, SC; Southside Middle School, Florence, SC; Meadow Glen Middle School, Lexington, SC; and Beaufort Middle School, Beaufort, SC. The STEM Team also participated in the TransformSC UpState Bus Tour visiting Monarch Elementary School and Carolina High School in Greenville, SC and Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg, Staff participated in both on-site and off-site professional development. A school-wide PBL was implemented in the Fall of 2017 and PBL class projects were implemented in the Spring of 2018. We held the Microsoft Family STEM Night and Excellence Fair that spring as well. During this year, we also had student projects go to space and near-space through the Cubes in Space Program.

In the summer of 2018, we held our first “Bantam Booster” professional development for our staff that included STEM and Blended Learning. Blended Learning PD was also conducted by SCETV in the Fall of 2018 and the S2TEM Center of SC conducted a session on STEM Mindedness. Our STEM Team attended the Teach to Lead conference and developed an action plan to expand teacher and student knowledge of STEM Mindedness. Kagan professional development and embedding technology into the curriculum sessions were conducted by district personnel. School site visits were conducted at Longleaf Middle School, Lexington, SC, and New Ellington Middle School, New Ellington, SC. We transitioned to a 90 minute A/B block to further address our established STEM goals of increasing student interest, participation, and achievement in STEM and expanding student access to effective STEM instruction. This also enabled us to add 41 elective courses including Project Lead the Way, robotics, and computer science courses. We implemented professional development on problem based learning and STEM Mindedness for implementation in all classes. The ISTE student standards were implemented as our STEM Core Competencies. The student STEM Ambassadors were formed along with the Quiz Bowl competition based student club, and the BioBantams field study based club. We began our school therapy dog program, added STEM activities to our Inter-generational Program, and began posting Family Take Home STEM activities on our Facebook page. Our STEM Advisory Committee was formed. We also developed a partnership with our local college, USC-Sumter, to bring physics instruction to all of our 8th grade students as well beginning a physics outreach to our feeder elementary school. A partnership plan was formed with Central Carolina Technical College for implementation during the 2019-2020 school year. A partnership was also formed with our district Career and Technology Center who helped us, along with Dr, Chang from USC-Sumter, to implement our NASA Family STEM Night. All of this assisted with our goal of building community awareness and partnership support for STEM.

The Bantam Booster summer professional development was once again implemented in the Summer of 2019. Professional development by AdvancEd on: “Instructional and Questioning Strategies to Increase Rigor for Students” was implemented in August 2019 with a follow-up session to occur in October 2019. Kagan professional development and embedding technology into the curriculum sessions are being conducted by district personnel. A partnership meeting occurred with Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC) and Dr. Blackwell, a local veterinarian, to establish outreach programs and further our goal of building community awareness and partnership support for STEM. One outreach program established with CCTC is a partnership between the BioBantams student club and the CCTC Natural Resource Management Center. Students will go on a field study each semester at the facility led by CCTC instructor, Joshua Castleberry. Another program involves a 3-D modeling and design course that CCTC will facilitate at Bates each semester. This class will be facilitated by CCTC engineering students and allow our student’s instruction in AutoCad software. Lisa Bracken, Vice President of Student Affairs, joined our STEM Advisory Board for the 2019-2020 school year. Dr, Blackwell agreed to partner with our Dog Character Class has through class visits to facilitate lessons and give expert feedback on student work. We offer 31 elective courses during this school year, including Project Lead the Way, robotics, and computer science courses. We are currently working with the Sumter County Planning Division to implement a two part PBL unit on the 2020 Census. Our city and county lost millions of dollars from the lack of proper counting measures and has asked us to join in their community outreach efforts The first part of our PBL will occur in October of 2019 and will involve students creating products to inform the community of the importance of completing the census. This will include a public service announcement the Sumter County Census Commission will use on their website. We will hold a school Census Fair on October 29, 2019, in which students will present and defend their work as well as assist community members to sign up for census employment that will be available. The second part of the Census PBL unit will occur in late March 2020 to kick off the actual 2020 Census. A community night will be held where students once again present and defend their work. Assistance will be provided in the actual completion of the census itself.

As part of this process of transforming to a STEM school, Bates has implemented school-wide PBL of both Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning. Our teachers work in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary teams, applying the instructional tenets of PBL/STEM based education in solving real-world problems. Teams meet every Tuesday for professional development and every Friday for common planning time. Professional development is provided by consultants, district, and school experts. The PBL/STEM units are student-centered, and provide students the opportunity to work independently and cooperatively identifying the core problems in the scenario, conducting research on causes and possible solutions, and implementing solution design and testing. We have developed a common PBL unit planning template that enables all teams to plan high quality PBL’s by taking these critical components into consideration. We have created the Bantam Design Process in which students utilize to embed the engineering design process in their daily studies. Through this independent work, student understanding increases in subjects throughout the curriculum. As facilitators, teachers help guide the research and solution design process, and while doing this, stress and encourage student practice of the skills of the Profile of the SC Graduate. We have also created common rubrics for the 4 C’s of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity; as well as a common Presentation Rubric. Students are also supported in their STEM learning through adult-world connections via their PBL guest speakers, field studies, business expos and tours, and Family STEM nights. Students have the opportunity for extended day opportunities that enrich their experience with after school clubs that provide students the opportunity to dig deeper into particular STEM topics of interest.