Augusta County Public Schools, Virginia
By Brooke Pritt
As teachers always are, I am constantly trying to find new ways to engage my students in active learning and incorporate multiple subject areas into singular projects. What a better way to conserve and be resourceful with my instructional time! Specifically, I was looking for a way to incorporate science, technology, and research skills into my writing class. Along came Defined STEM! My students are thoroughly engaged when working with technology and I’m always looking for ways to improve their technological skills. Why not give this a try?
After attending professional development on Defined STEM, I was browsing for something that could be used for my expository writing unit. The task “Wildlife Biologist: Bats” appeared on my computer screen. I wanted my students to not only be involved in the process of composing a piece of expository writing, I wanted them to dive deeper with their learning at the same time. As part of a science unit that included animal adaptations and codependency, I wanted my students to learn about the many ways that bats are useful to the local ecosystem. Throughout this project, students were researching, asking questions, and going deeper in their learning, while using the information they’d gleaned to write an exposition to teach others about the usefulness of bats.
Since I was utilizing this project primarily as a writing unit, I needed to customize it and narrow down my students’ product choices. I was able to add online articles, links to verified websites, and videos for my students to use while conducting their research. The videos that were already available through the Defined STEM website were an invaluable resource, as well! When working to customize my project, I narrowed down the choices and added my own, to lead my students toward developing the expository writing that was required. For this project, students were working collaboratively to research and plan, but each student was required to submit his or her own writing product. Students were communicating and collaborating with one another, working towards a common goal. That’s what legitimate learning looks like.
To set the stage before beginning this project, my class read many articles and books about bats. After reading about the declining number of bats in our area due to lack of adequate shelter and white-nose syndrome (WNS), my students were excited to find a way to help save the bats! My students became wildlife biologists for the duration of this project. They were expected to become experts on all things related to bats, and be able to clearly articulate their reasoning for asking the community to add bat houses to local parks.
I utilized this Defined STEM project as part of my district’s goal of forwarding 21st century learning, which successfully combines collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. My students were working in all areas of the 4 Cs while producing something that is truly integrated in our local community. Students knew that their audience was the local county board of supervisors, who would have the authority to allow bat houses to be added to the park. Their learning was truly genuine and authentic.
Brooke Pritt has been an elementary school teacher for the past 12 years in Augusta County Public Schools. She is currently teaching fifth grade, and previously taught first, second, and third grades. Brooke’s passions are to teach writing and science. Defined STEM allows her to seamlessly blend the two!