The STEM team at Huntingdon Area Middle School uses a rotation system to engage students in multifaceted, multimedia projects with real-world implications.
At Huntingdon Area Middle School in Huntingdon, PA, four teachers from four different disciplines have one goal: teaching students to apply cross-curricular knowledge, think critically, and solve problems. They use their individual strengths in a project-based rotation model to guide middle-school students to use what they know not just for a test, but in real-world situations.
Every three days, 100 students rotate among technology teacher Matt Rakar, library media specialist Sally Steward, math teacher Ben Young, and science teacher Samantha DeMatteo. As students rotate, they use knowledge and skills they have learned from all four teachers to complete multifaceted projects that take approximately nine weeks to complete.
Recently, the teachers and students completed a project called “Artificial Island Real Estate Agent,” where they devised a plan to market real estate on an island that they had created. This project gave students a glimpse into dozens of new careers and real-world problems that people in STEM careers face on a daily basis.
Rather than taking a test, students created models, brochures, drawings, and videos to guide a group presentation that they gave to an audience of 100 students. Teachers pushed students to think critically and make choices including the volume of material needed to make an island, marketing and advertising strategies for selling properties on the island, and the environmental impact of putting an artificial island in the middle of the ocean.
“Doing this project got them excited to know there are people right now working on a project similar to theirs, and someday this could be their job,” said DeMatteo, the science teacher on the STEM team. “It brings relevance to their learning and legitimizes the lesson, which, in turn, gets students interested to learn and engage in the project.”
Here are the three biggest benefits of the rotation model, according to the Huntingdon STEM team.
1) Helping Students Digest Information in Small Doses
Breaking down a large-scale project into attainable tasks and dispersing the content among four teachers over a nine-week period gives students the time they need to fully grasp concepts and decipher how they can be applied. The multi-faceted projects and rotational model create an environment where students can relate their knowledge and skills to the real world, which makes the STEM course not only educational but fun.
2) Catering to Teachers’ Strengths
Splitting up content also plays to each teacher’s strengths in a specific area of study, allowing lessons to be specialized and focused. “If I were to keep the same 25 kids for a semester, they’d have a great experience with aspects of science,” said DeMatteo. “As the students move through our classrooms, they are able to spend a few days focusing on other subjects in reference to the same project. Each day they can build on what they’ve already learned, which brings them one step closer to their goal: completing the project.”
Math teacher Young explained, “I like that I am not ‘pretending’ to be the expert on certain topics or spending hours outside of class each week teaching myself about environmental impacts and muscular systems to teach my lessons. Having a team of teachers helps fill the gaps where more expertise may be required. We use each other as references and to bounce ideas off of. But even better, the students use us in the same way and can easily see how our disciplines aren’t that different after all.”
3) Using Pre-Built, Project-Based Curriculum
When it comes to content and grading rubrics, the team uses Defined STEM, an online curriculum supplement with hundreds of lessons that put student prompts, videos, and articles at their fingertips. Defined STEM provides much of the teaching material and is flexible enough for the team to adjust lessons to fit their needs. The team chooses four performance tasks to complete during the school year and then uses the standards-aligned, project-focused curriculum as the foundation of the STEM course.