While every graduating student might not choose a STEM related field of study or career after high school, we want to ensure that every student has the creative and critical thinking skills and deep understanding to succeed should they choose a STEM pathway. Being scientifically literate, understanding the essential principles in mathematics, and graduating with meaningful experiences with engineering design and technological understandings are important components of STEM education, college and career readiness, and global citizenship.
The District has many exemplars of STEM education programs across the schools and grade levels. The following descriptions provide a short overview of indicators of STEM education happening in the District. These programs and unique learning experiences integrate STEM disciplines in ways that provides hands-on, real world, and relevant learning experiences for students, often supported by community partners or STEM industry professionals. These exemplars set our work apart from other local initiatives and continue to inspire the development of additional STEM programs and experiences.
CREST Field Experiences
STEM education begins with fostering a sense of wonder and giving students place-based field experiences to have strong connections to the surrounding community. Exposing kids to their environment at the early grades is essential to support curiosity and inquiry about the interaction between STEM disciplines. Expanding field experiences to include a great part of the community and region during the upper elementary and middle school provides opportunities for students to focus and explore those interests. By high school, students have had diverse field experiences and can pursue specific opportunities related to their interests, whether through participation in ISEF (see below), AP classes, or internship experience with the CREST Farm to School site related to sustainable agriculture. In this model, all experiences are informed by and grounded in the CCSS Mathematical Practices, NGSS Scientific and Engineering Practices, and the Big Ideas in Education for Sustainability. Students integrate science and literacy across the grade levels by using the claim, evidence, reasoning and rebuttal framework for talking and writing in science and mathematics. This approach, widely accepted by the science education community, has been heavily researched and written about by Katherine L. McNeil. As such, teachers and CREST staff will continue to work to integrate these practices into instructional practices in science and the CREST field experiences.
Engineering courses and experiences take different forms across the grade levels. Engineering is Elementary is a resource that the District adopted with its most recent science adoption for the primary level. This curriculum, developed at the Museum of Science (Boston), provides units that integrate literacy and anchor texts with real world engineering design problems. As stated on their website, the mission of Engineering is Elementary “is to foster engineering and technological literacy among ALL elementary-aged children.” These units and experiences provide primary school students with experience in engineering design, as an extension of science units and concepts outlined in the NGSS. The Museum of Science (Boston) also develops curricular resources for engineering to be integrated into middle and high school mathematics courses. As primary school teachers implement Engineering is Elementary units, the District will continue to explore Building Math and Engineering the Future as another opportunity to provide STEM education experiences for middle and high school students.
Described in greater detail below, the District’s partnership with Oregon Tech (OIT) also provides an opportunity for high schools students to enroll in OIT’s Introduction to Engineering High School Transition course bundle. These college level courses will provide a strong foundation in a diverse range of engineering fields, while also giving students a chance to earn college credit. This partnership is important for our on-going development of dual credit opportunities for students. District teachers plan to work with OIT professors to develop more engineering courses at the middle and high school levels.
Science Inquiry, Research and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)
Science inquiry and research takes place at every grade level. The interest and curiosity fostered at the younger grades is further supported with formalized inquiry projects and local science fairs at the upper grades. Students entering middle school and high school have a strong foundation in scientific and engineering design and the opportunity to participate in the District’s Science Symposium, which then prepares students for the state-level Northwest Science Expo and Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Inquiry fairs and ISEF provide an opportunity for students to apply their understanding and interest in the STEM disciplines through meaningful inquiry and research projects that are grounded in real world applications. Presenting their research connects students with STEM professionals who mentor their projects and act as judges during the various fair competitions. College scholarships are also available for certain fair awards, making local universities more accessible for students following high school graduation.
Farm to School and Sustainable Agriculture
STEM education in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District has a strong history in the environmental sciences. We ground students’ experiences in the natural world around our schools and in the community to provide meaningful and relevant design problems for engineering solutions, connections to science inquiry, and the use of local technologies. The CREST Farm to School site provides a unique opportunity to experience STEM in action. Students work with a resident farm manager and CREST educators on a 10 acre District owned property to understand components of sustainable agriculture. Students design and construct solutions related to the cultivation, harvest, and distribution of produce from the farm site and have opportunities for year round internships to extend their learning in the classroom. A deep understanding in STEM disciplines is required when learning about all of the components of vegetable production and distribution from the farm. Fifth grade classroom field experiences then encourage middle school and eventually high school students to gain relevant and important work and career skills through summer and year round internships at the farm.
US FIRST and LEGO Robotics Programs
Students experience disciplinary core ideas in science, technology, engineering and mathematics when they engage in the District’s robotics program. Beginning at the primary level, all second grade students work with engineering design principles and experience authentic inquiry with the LEGO WeDo curriculum. Connected to Next Generation Science Standards, second grade classes explore programming, using models, and engineering design. Building on this universal experience, fourth and fifth grade students are able to participate in the For Innovation and Recognition of Science and Technology’s (FIRST) LEGO League teams. These teams form as enrichment classes or after school clubs, working to solve problems commonly faced by scientists and engineers, as well as to build small LEGO robots. Continuing at the middle level, sixth through eighth grade students build on these foundational experiences and continue work and participation with FIRST LEGO League teams. These teams are supported by teachers, schools, and parents and prepare students for competitions. At the high school level, students from Wilsonville and West Linn High Schools combine forces on the District’s FIRST Robotics Challenge team. The team, Error Code Xero 1425, is supported by community partners, professional mentors, and a teacher advisor and coordinator. High school students have seen great success on the regional and national stage during these competitions. Through integrated learning in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, students design and build robots to meet certain criteria and functions for local and national competitions. The team’s mission, Building Robots. Building People, reinforces how students and teachers believe that this team provides a unique opportunity for real world, leadership experiences through the deep understanding of STEM disciplines.
Providing experiences with robotics is important when integrating STEM education into student experiences across the grade levels. Continuing to foster partnerships with local educational providers, industries, and professionals, engage teachers at all levels in professional development around robotics and engineering, and support robotics teams throughout the District is important to the sustained growth of these teams and programs. Robotics programs throughout the District connect to other salient components of the District’s STEM education program, such as coding and programming. In addition, robotics connects to the District Technology Plan, which outlines how technology supports teaching and learning for students and teachers at all levels.
Green Building Design and School Buildings
Green building design is an important piece of understanding elements of sustainable development, both at the local and global scale. Students around the District have an opportunity to explore sustainable design features that are demonstrated in buildings within our community. Trillium Creek and Lowrie Primary Schools, which opened for the 2012-2013 school year, are both Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified schools. This US Green Building Council (USGBC) rating system provides credits for a variety of design features and construction practices within six categories. Gold is the second highest rating. Trillium Creek and Lowrie Primary Schools were designed and built with student learning in mind and both provide opportunities for students and visitors to learn about and continue to tell the story of sustainability. These schools demonstrate a range of green building design strategies, from energy conservation to school gardens. Through partnership with DOWA-IBI Group, the architectural firm that has designed many of schools in the District, middle school students also have a unique opportunity to enter into a design competition as they are tasked with designing a new middle school to meet certain green building criteria. Green building and design is also an important focus and component of high school environmental science courses as students explore the relationship between the built environment and strains on natural resources, urban planning, and energy efficiencies. These themes continue to be important considerations for creating learning experiences for students, but also the Long Range Plan and current and future planning around District facilities, programs, and operations.