In the heart of the Tri-Cities Region, where the Columbia River meanders gracefully, a new collaboration is coming together, and the excitement is building! Leaders from Pasco, including Wendy Lechelt-Polster, and Kim Van Eaton, joined forces with their counterparts from Kennewick, including Tina Brewer, in collaboration with ESD 123’s Science Coordinator, Lorianne Donovan. Together, they embarked on an journey to reinvigorate STEM education in elementary classrooms.
In response to the challenging era of virtual learning prompted by the pandemic, and slow return to science in the elementary classroom, a need was clear.– “Enough is enough!” The time had come to rekindle the flame of STEM and Science Integration in our schools and reawaken our dedicated teachers to the power and significance of Science. The urgency was undeniable, and the solution presented itself as a bold and promising endeavor: bringing educators together in a collaborative effort grounded in standards and equity. Named the “Confluence-STEM Integration Leaders Academy,” this initiative mirrors the coming together of the two districts, much like the confluence of their rivers. It’s not just a name; it’s vision. The vision to deliver high quality professional learning that empowers educators with contemporary STEM and Science instruction strategies, ensuring a brighter future for their students. Tricia Brinkley, a passionate educator from Pasco, emphasized the importance of this partnership, stating, “This gave us an opportunity to collaborate with others in other districts. We saw examples that helped create questions and thinking.” If we expect our students to tackle complex issues like Earth changes and climate, we must first lay a solid elementary science educational foundation.
The goals of the Confluence Academy are as ambitious as they are crucial:
- Integration and rooting in standards.
- Equitable Learning Opportunities.
- Developing STEM Leaders.
- Fostering a common understanding of STEM and STEM Education.
- Building a collaborative network.
The opening evening of this three-part leadership series was nothing short of spectacular. Leaders gathered at the REACH Museum, a treasure of local history, where they embarked on a captivating journey. An anchoring phenomena set the stage, inviting them to contemplate the significance of snowpack in the irrigated lands of the Tri-Cities and the far-reaching effects of climate change on snowpack levels. Throughout this experience, equitable strategies like Notice-Wonder, A Collective Experience, Card Sorts, video of snowpack to faucet, and Discourse Sentence Starters, guided their path. Areli Lora, a Kennewick Teacher, summed up the significance: “It had a great impact on my thinking about STEM. I was able to leave session one and automatically make changes to my teaching practices and influenced what I did in the classroom.” The time between sessions allowed participants to reflect on their journey using a Padlet, deepening their understanding of snowpack’s importance and sharing resources to support fellow STEM leaders.
Session 2 saw Kimberley Astle, Associate Director at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), join the leadership team. She delved into the best approaches to authentic content integration, comparing the “Mutually Supportive Integration” approach to the “Absorption” approach. The Kennewick and Pasco leaders resonated deeply with the power of the Mutually Supportive Model. April Samples, a Kennewick Teacher, added, “The power of mutually supportive integration empowers students to step outside their comfort zone and allows me to give the power over to students.” An invitation to a choice board extended the learning process beyond formal sessions, with teachers trying and sharing strategies, even creating FLIP GRID videos to expand their newfound knowledge.
In the final session, educators gathered at ESD 123 to further their exploration of water, climate, NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), and the pivotal role of equity in elementary school science education. Administrators were uplifted by the wealth of strategies and resources to take back to their schools, primed for ongoing professional development. As Tammy Hutchinson expressed, “As an administrator, I can now use these strategies during staff meetings and Professional Development days to demonstrate and engage the teachers.”
The Confluence-STEM Integration Leaders Academy is no longer a dream; it’s a movement, a reawakening, a journey of discovery that promises to begin a shift in elementary science education in the Tri-Cities Region and beyond. With this project, the future of STEM and Science Integration education is brighter than ever.