Dr. Sherry Eagle: STEM Collaboration
A STEM concept that was successfully piloted—originally—as a summer and after school program, with educators from four large Illinois school districts, working together—collaboratively with Aurora University faculty, corporate partners, and non-for profits—has become the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School success in Illinois, as well as model for replication elsewhere. In a recent interview, with Dr. Sherry Eagle, former superintendent, and guide, as Executive Director, for this epic STEM school journey, Connect Learning Today discovers what it takes to change and create a new STEM teaching model, while bringing in all the stakeholders necessary for success. So, please read how the Institute for Collaboration and The John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School began. It started with the right framework, partnerships, and trust.
Executive Director Dr. Sherry Eagle, in her own words
How do you create a system, an initiative within a system—and within multiple school districts that can actually be a part of the whole, and operate to give back? Before we even began, to put together the thinking of the program, and what this course of study could look like, we were reflective in developing a contextual framework. That framework was built by all of those partners, coming together, over the course of almost 6 months. We came up with ideas for what we really wanted from this initiative for teachers, and students. We developed two frameworks—one for students and one for teachers. Once those were developed, we then began to build the curriculum on top of that.
What was somewhat insightful was that typically in a school district—or in a university, where you design curriculum—most times do it in a vacuum. You bring together people from like-minded fields, or just one field—and you sit and dialogue and draft a curriculum. In some cases, you do it as a solitary experience. We decided, instead, that we were going to draft the STEM curriculum as part of a course of study at Aurora University. So we designed a series of graduate courses, where the goal of those courses would actually be to write a curriculum, design activities, and develop resources.
The point was two-fold. You immerse everyone into the project in terms of ownership, and you also immerse everyone as creators and designers. By doing that, you begin to build mutual trust, and respect across all parties. When that occurs you can learn from one another, and make things happen, because of that trust.
We designed these three courses and teachers took them for graduate credit. The Aurora University faculty engaged with district teachers during the courses, and our corporate and non-for profit partners joined every week as part of those graduate courses—everyone worked in the development of the program.
By taking 25 educators, from multiple school districts, for these courses, it make it possible for them to go back to their own districts with a better understanding for concepts of collaborating, and curriculum development concepts. We all learned, and had a practical understanding of next generation science standards, common core, college and career readiness, supply chain process, and our own foundational framework. It made the professional educators realize that this was learning in an entirely different way. In that way, we not only understood how to build a STEM curriculum—step by step. There’s no doubt that some of that, has already been implemented across those districts in a formal way. The creation of the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School (opened August 2014) gave that momentum—a reason to come together. These districts may not have come together without a reason to come together. I believe this STEM initiative gave the reason momentum.
One of the resonating comments I always hear is that this is wonderful, because a teacher doesn’t even leave his/her school district, because of contractual responsibilities. Teachers can go out, learn, and then return to share. In this way, they can be immersed in an environment, where other professional educators are doing the same things, and university faculty joins them, along with members of the corporate sector, the non-for profit sector, and the government sector, too. Everyone working towards accomplishing determined goals set by all stakeholders in a collaborative way.
The Institute for Collaboration, and the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School also gives the teachers from these district more practice, and more understanding in collaboration. Teams have now been developed from the districts that will come together to learn how to implement the STEM approach in their home districts. This has become more than creating the brick and mortar place. We know that you can create “the place” down any hallway in an American school and in any district.
The staff make-up at the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School is elementary teachers—primary and intermediate—as well as middle school teachers. It may not be thought of as the traditional group for all the expertise needed in mathematics and science, but they were an essential piece. We also had some high school teachers, who wanted to be a part of this, because they wanted to know what came before, in terms of the scope and sequence of curriculum. They added scope and sequence content value expertise. The content experts really were the Aurora University faculty, while the content currency experts were the corporate and non-for profit sector. In this way, the educators didn’t have to have all the responsibility, on themselves, for understanding everything. Educators came as creators of a curriculum, but just as much as learners of content, too. We are all learning.
We ended up using a common language, when we were developing the framework. What was interesting was that the corporate partners were teaching us to be concise. In all of this, we’re hoping educators, from four of the largest districts in Illinois, will take back the teaching and collaboration skills they’ve learned at the Institute for Collaboration and the John C. Dunham STEM School to their own districts, for replication. That increases the STEM network, and the STEM school impact. It’s our goal to share this style of teaching and learning in a much larger way.
About the Interviewer
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.