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Adventures in ISTEM: What does it mean?


As I write this, in 2015, I will have been a middle school science teacher for 15 years, and during that time, my philosophy as a teacher has definitely changed.  As I have discovered different teaching practices, ideas, and mindsets, my thoughts on what is important has changed.

First Change

I have shifted my grading from the typical percent scale to a standards-based grading scale based on Marzano’s learning scales.  I allow my students to retake assessments within the grading window until they show mastery of the standards.  Their grades are based on what they know, not on effort or how nice their assignment looks. This allows students to learn perseverance, to continue to try hard, and to be ok with making mistakes in the beginning.  Most of their assignments do not count against their academic grades. They are simply assignments for them to learn and investigate the topic without fear of it affecting their grade.  This allows for more Academic Risk Taking.

Second Change

When our district eliminated advanced classes my classes became mixed with Resource students, EL learners, GATE-identified, and everything in between.  I knew my teaching had to change in order to try and meet all the needs of my students.  I began differentiating using the Depth and complexity icons by Sandra Kaplan and scaffolding them to meet my lower-level students. I decided at the beginning that I would teach to the higher level learners and then scaffold to help the lower level learners reach the goals.  Teaching in this way means that every student is pushed to work at their highest level.  It also means that the highest level for one student is not the highest level for the next.

Third Change

Most recently, in the last two years, I have incorporated technology into my classroom.  Last year I started by using google drive with my students and doing some blended learning activities.  This year I took on the challenge of flipping my class, having my students learn the basic information at home, and spending more time in class clarifying, enriching, and delving deeper into the topics.  The results have been amazing and better than I ever expected.  Students can move at their own pace to learn the basics.  It allows for more individualized instruction.  And I am better able to meet the needs of all my students.   I have more one-on-one time with my students.  It has also opened up my classroom to do more challenging activities and higher-level DOK activities.

As my Adventure continues, I look forward to transitioning further into a student lead classroom from a teacher lead classroom, moving the lifting of the learning from me to my students.

What does Adventures in ISTEM mean?

Why did I decide to call my site adventures in ISTEM?  Teaching is an adventure. It’s a journey.  No two days are alike, especially in middle school.  To me, adventure means discovery, excitement, and learning.  In my adventure I have tried to shift from a teacher heavy class where I just give the students the information to more of an inquiry class where the students discover the information on their own and I’m more of a coach to guide them. That is where the I in ISTEM comes in.  Inquiry investigations about science using math, technology, and engineering practices.