SummerSTEM | Perspectives

SummerSTEM connects educators with STEM-industry professionals to enhance instruction in Wake County. As a result of the collaboration of WakeEd Partnership, the Wake County Public School System, and STEM businesses in North Carolina, educators get the chance to hone their skills by learning about the process and design of Project-Based Learning. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. In the end, teachers design and implement a PBL unit, meant to enhance the course standards. 



The Importance of STEM Education and How SummerSTEM Addresses This Concept 

STEM education is not just about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) but also the skills needed to excel in those areas and beyond. STEM allows students to become leaders in their own learning by applying problem-solving skills to current problems and creatively finding ways to avoid those problems in the future. WakeEd Partnership’s SummerSTEM program shows teachers how to empower students. We, as teachers, coaches and previous participants, get the opportunity to work directly with businesses that outline what is needed in the classroom to be successful. Teachers are able to take this information back to the classroom and make the necessary connections between the curriculum and the workforce. 


Benefits of the Business Immersions 

One of the most unique aspects of SummerSTEM is the inclusion of business immersions. Teachers spend two days learning about the work of professionals, on site at STEM-connected companies based in the Raleigh-Durham region. They are carefully crafted to help teachers develop a valuable understanding of the connections between the learning that is happening in their classrooms and the work adults do in various fields. They hear first-hand from these professionals about the importance of supporting students in developing strong success skills, tied directly to Wake County Public School Systems (WCPSS) priority of “The Four Cs” – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. In addition to having this greater vision of where their students are headed, teachers build relationships with these businesses and can invite them into their classrooms to provide real-world context for the learning their students are engaging in. 


Impact of SummerSTEM in the Classroom 

As a SummerSTEM coach and classroom teacher, it is our job to make sure that all students are able to be successful in the future. Mastering the core subject is just one piece of the puzzle. Students also need to learn how to think critically, collaborate and communicate in a variety of settings. The program equips teachers with the tools they need to show students how to develop the success skills that will take them beyond the classroom. It affords us the opportunity to see the direct connection between the classroom and the workplace; applying what we learned during SummerSTEM to our lessons, classrooms and curriculums ignites excitement in our students that shows up in their participation. The impact is powerful and can be seen in the students they become and the world changers they will become.  



Impact of SummerSTEM as an Educational Professional 

In our day-to-day work as educators, our plates are loaded with all kinds of responsibilities that don’t always directly relate to the act of teaching. SummerSTEM highlights the importance of the work we do in preparing children to become thoughtful contributors to society while reminding us of the joy and hope that comes along with growing young minds. Just as we want our students to be well-rounded and have a variety of meaningful experiences to contribute to their understanding of the world around them, educators must have those opportunities as well. 
SummerSTEM supports teachers as they lead in their classrooms and in the educational community, giving them a chance to share the important work their students are doing with others. This happens publicly at our STEMposium event and with other educators when their unit is shared in our SummerSTEM project library. Throughout their SummerSTEM experience, they enhance their teacher toolkit with effective, student-centered, research-based pedagogy as they learn to develop Project Based Learning units of study that engage students in meaningful STEM work.



Tori Smith currently serves as an elementary school teacher where she has successfully taught both first and fifth grade.  In addition to teaching on the elementary level, she is a mentor for new teachers and an academic language coach. Tori has been a SummerSTEM coach for 5 years helping teachers across Wake County learn the importance of STEM and Project Based Learning in the classroom.  


Erin Gannon is an innovative elementary school educator with 26 years of experience in both charter and public schools in California and North Carolina. She currently teaches third grade at Davis Drive Elementary and has been a SummerSTEM Coach for six years. She has served as National Faculty with PBLWorks for eight years, facilitating PBL-focused professional development across the country. She also contributes to the development of curriculum and assessments for PBLNow and Discovery Education and lends her expertise to a variety of other projects as an independent education consultant. She is passionate about student-centered Project Based Learning, inquiry, and arts integration, and an enthusiastic book collector. 

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