IMG_0013A year ago, I applied to be a participant in a program called SummerSTEM. Little did I know that this decision would help to shape my future as an educator.

I entered into this program thinking that I was an innovative teacher, but soon realized that I had much to learn. After a week of training and immersion experiences at SAS and Red Hat, my mind was racing with ideas for my classroom. What I thought I had known about project based learning was just the tip of the iceberg. I was reminded that learning is inquiring, and realized that the best way to guide my students was to allow them the freedom to explore our content in a way that made it real.

I developed a project to help students learn about soil conservation techniques. They had to choose a real-world soil quality problem, research potential solutions and create an infographic that could be used to educate the public about this problem. During my immersion, I went to SAS and learned about the Data Depot that they have available for kids, so that was a resource that students used as they searched for relevant soil quality data. I also enlisted the help of the US EPA and the local soil and water conservation offices.IMG_0015

I invited local organizations into our classroom as guest speakers, as judges for projects, and as resources for the students. Students were given autonomy to explore real world problems related to our curriculum. My role within the room had shifted from lecturer to facilitator. I was no longer in front of the room delivering instruction. I was now providing resources and strategies to help my students make their own discoveries about what we were studying. Click through the gallery for more images of students learning.

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Through collaboration with other teachers within and beyond my building, I was able to diversify the content. My science classroom has become an avenue for not only science instruction, but also literacy, math, collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. Through my work in this program I was able to ignite a more innovative approach to my instruction, and can’t wait to continue developing these skills in the coming years.

Danielle McCaslin
Mills Park Middle School
6th Grade Science
Science Olympiad Co-Chair