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Full STEAM Ahead: How Fort Mill Schools Instills Engagement and Passion

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Sometimes being on top isn’t enough.

In 2017, Fort Mill School District in South Carolina became the top-rated district in the state, garnering national acclaim for its students’ academic achievements, and being named to The College Board’s AP District Honor Roll. But the district’s leaders knew they could reach even greater heights. The challenge was – how can they get there?

When it underwent its AdvancED accreditation in 2017, the district had every right to expect great results. So when officials got the accreditation report back, they were surprised to find one small note of discord: Student engagement, while satisfactory, was lower than administrators wanted.

“It was not where we wanted to be as compared to our normally high achievement results,” says Marty McGinn, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and human resources.

At the time, district officials were in the process of reexamining their curriculum, mostly to make sure students were college and career ready according to the state’s Profile of the Graduate.

When officials considered the engagement of their students, as well as the recognition that various schools were offering different STEM activities, only one choice addressed all these issues. The choice—to increase offerings in STEAM topics—was quickly agreed upon. STEAM refers to the basic STEM topics, science, technology, engineering, and math, with the arts included.

But even administrators couldn’t have guessed how well the changes would be accepted both inside and outside their classrooms. In just the first year of the district’s shift in focus, the effort has been well received by students, the school board, and especially teachers.

“We had a lot of STEAM activities going on here and there,” says McGinn of the district’s 16 schools. “But we’re a growing district, and we needed something that could bring everyone to the table.”

BUILDING STEAM

After mapping where district leaders knew they needed to be, they had to decide how to get there, which meant weighing the options for programs to implement and who could help them through this transition. In April 2017, the leaders hosted a strategic planning session.

To provide some guidance, Fort Mill’s leaders invited Cindy Moss, vice president of global STEM initiatives at Discovery Education, to speak with school and district leaders, along with students. Moss envisioned a classroom ecosystem where all teachers and students were immersed in STEM.

“Schools need to provide experiences that allow students to become ‘glocal,’” said Moss. “They should walk outside their school to find local problems and be able to see how their local problems fit into the global scheme of things. Adults should stop just dispensing knowledge and allow students to solve real-world problems.”

Chad Allen, the district’s STEM coordinator, said Moss’ passion filled the room with energy. It became the ignition for their STEAM engine.

“After she spoke, our students said, ‘We need our teachers to teach like that,’” said Allen. “We did not expect that strong of a reaction from our students, but they were immediately engaged.”

MANAGING RAPID GROWTH

Fort Mill’s move to emphasize STEAM topics districtwide was initially complicated by the district’s tremendous growth. In just 15 years, the district, located in a town of 50 square miles, has grown from fewer than 6,000 students to more than 15,000. In that time, two new high schools were opened, and the district hired new teachers to compensate for the growth in student population.

Despite this growth spurt, these sudden changes haven’t had a negative impact on student achievement. Fort Mill remains the top-performing district in South Carolina, with a graduation rate of 94 percent—12 percentage points higher than the state average. Also, 85 percent of its graduates went on to a two- or four-year college, well above the state’s average rate of 71 percent.

But these changes did emphasize for district leaders the need for a unified curriculum, said McGinn. Redistricting has shuffled both students and teachers to different schools, so streamlining the curriculum made it easier for both groups to change addresses without losing ground.

“Our superintendent continues to say, ‘It doesn’t matter which school you go to in Fort Mill—they are all equally excellent,’” said McGinn.

SEEING STEAM IN ACTION

In order to better formulate their goals, Fort Mill officials visited Santa Rosa County District Schools in Florida to see how it integrates STEAM activities into its everyday education.

In recent years, Santa Rosa has emerged as an international leader in STEAM education. Its students have continued to show promise after embarking in 2015 on a five-year strategic partnership with Discovery Education called STEAM Innovate!, where educators receive intensive professional learning and job-embedded coaching. Santa Rosa’s classrooms have become STEAM-infused learning environments, with lessons that nurture student achievement and critical 21st-century learning skills.

“We were struck by the common language and the common vision,” McGinn says. “Everybody moves in the same direction, from the district office to the classroom. It inspired us.”

Now, Fort Mill was moving with purpose toward a STEAM model, but still had some hills to climb. Leaders knew that they would need a strong professional development basis from which to launch into STEAM, but the district’s central office is slim.

“We believe in funding our schools, but we simply don’t have the capacity to do something like districtwide PD all by ourselves. So we had to find a great solution,” said Allen.

BUILDING A CORPS OF TEACHER LEADERS

Fort Mill partnered with Discovery Education’s STEAM Leader Corps, a comprehensive program that helps scale digital and instructional leadership in school districts. Schools in Fort Mill were already using the company’s Science Techbook digital textbook, and it plans to expand into Discovery Education STEM Connect in the future.

The district’s partnership with Discovery Education has been powerful and unique, said Allen, adding that it was unlike any of his previous experiences with education service providers.

“Discovery Education’s people have been right alongside us every step of the way.

“They’ve invested themselves in the community, they talk to parents at PTO meetings, and they’re involved in planning and designing posters—it’s almost like they work for the district,” said Allen.

Through the Leader Corps, Fort Mill’s educators are being prepared for effective STEAM instruction and establishing a team of teacher leaders that will help drive systemwide change.

“Having a clear professional development structure for implementing STEAM is important to focus our efforts to achieve our goals,” said McGinn. “It also fosters communication and collaboration within and between our schools.”

Initially, the district sought volunteers to start, asking for eight teachers at its high schools and four at each middle and elementary school. McGinn wasn’t sure that many teachers would be interested, But the opposite proved true. More teachers applied than they could immediately use. While those not chosen were disappointed, the district has included them on trips to conferences and other schools to see STEAM activities in person to prime them for the future.

The training took a strategic approach, beginning with principals, says McGinn.

“Principal leadership is so vital. If the administration doesn’t understand what teachers need, such as time for planning and collaborating, it’s hard to support them,” she said.

Now, one year into the four-year STEAM Leader Corps program, teachers are beginning to showcase the effects of their training, said Allen.

He can tell teachers are embracing the new methods when he hears them discussing STEAM concepts in side conversations in the hallways. They’re also active on their own Twitter hashtag, #FM21STEAM where they regularly share their accomplishments.

“Some of those who came out of this process surprised us, and they’re surprising themselves,” he said. “These teachers are starting to demonstrate their skills as leaders. They’re stepping up and responding to the extra autonomy they’re being given.”

These teachers will lead model classrooms for others, organically growing the STEAM initiative internally throughout the district. And more leaders are being added each year.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting work,” McGinn said.

WHAT STEAM LOOKS LIKE IN FORT MILL SCHOOLS

Teachers are learning how to create project-based learning lessons that meet the district’s standards, she says. Once teachers immerse themselves in using units from STEM Connect, they will better understand how to create their own interactive units.

In classrooms throughout the district, a combination of project-based learning and student-centered teaching can be seen in full practice. In place of stand-and-deliver instruction, students are empowered to be at the core of their classrooms, leading their own explorations in learning.

“We’ve seen the level of student engagement increase in our schools. They’re doing more rigorous work, and there is more creativity on display,” said Allen. “We had 400 people show up for one of our student-led district art shows recently. That was huge for them.”

Also emerging are STEAM-based lessons grounded in real-world issues. Springfield Middle School students embarked on a service-based learning exercise recently while studying what life is like for those living in refugee camps. To provide context for the lesson, they left the classroom behind and went outdoors.

They crossed a river, and using the limited materials they’d carried with them, built their own tents and spent some time in the wilderness.

They experienced a small taste of the life of those without homes of their own. Beyond the hands-on learning experience, it’s an exercise in communicating the power of compassion, said Allen.

“The definition of caring comes from understanding someone else’s perspective. When you design solutions, you’re trying to think of how people will experience that,” said Allen.

“I think giving kids a firsthand account of life experiences really helps them understand what it is they’re learning.”

Another major shift is on the teacher’s side of things. They’re encouraged to experiment with new ideas in the classroom and not be afraid of failure.

“If something goes bad, or fails, it’s okay. We’re giving them the freedom to explore. It’s allowed us to open our minds and be more intuitive about how we teach our kids,” said Allen.

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Latest Updates to Discovery Education’s Flexible K-12 Platform Keeps All Learners Connected to Engaging Content, Instructional Strategies, and Professional Learning

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SILVER SPRING, MD (Tuesday, February 23, 2021)Discovery Education today announced a series of updates to its flexible, award-winning K-12 learning platform that will keep teachers and students connected to the service’s engaging content, instructional strategies, and professional learning resources wherever learning is taking place. Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources and professional learning for K-12 classrooms.

Discovery Education provides all educators and students a simple, secure, and reliable user experience. Recognizing that every school system has their own unique technological configuration, Discovery Education has architected its K-12 learning platform to maintain maximum flexibility in a variety of areas including:

Login – New updates to Discovery Education’s learning platform now allow teachers and students to login through a variety of ways, such as:

  • Discovery Education website login.
  • Single-Sign On (SSO) integrations available through Clever, Classlink, Google, Microsoft Office 365, SAML/ADFS, and in North Carolina, NCEdCloud.
  • LTI authentication via a Learning Management System (LMS).
  • QR Code (for students only).

Learning Management Systems (LMS) – Discovery Education helps school systems maximize the benefits of their edtech investment by making its K-12 platform simple to integrate into an ever-widening variety of LMS. Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform now integrates into Microsoft Teams, Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom, Brightspace by D2L, and Infinite Campus.

Rostering –To securely import and manage user and class data, Discovery Education’s services can now roster students and classes using Clever, Classlink, OneRoster, or CSV uploads. Together, these integrations help administrators and teachers easily create, share, and assign engaging lessons, interactive resources, and validate assessments through their existing tools, or share content with a URL link or through integrations with Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, social media platforms, Remind, and Edmodo.

Discovery Education learning platform’s increased ability to seamlessly integrate with schools’ everyday systems and classroom workflows makes it easier than ever for students and teachers to connect to over 200,000 resources, standards-aligned activities, high-quality content, and carefully curated channels. Organized by grade level, subject area, and interest, the resources include exclusive learning opportunities for students like Virtual Field Trips, career explorations, at-home challenges, and self-guided exercises.

Among the collections recently added to Discovery Education’s flexible K-12 learning platform is the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Center. The new SEL Center provides a curated collection of hundreds of critical, vetted, SEL solutions for K-12 classrooms that provide educators trusted content and practical strategies to help all students thrive.

The SEL Center includes resources focused on educator professional development and school culture including microlearnings, instructional strategies and ready-to-use slide shows. Designed for all K-12 students and educators, the Center features multi-modal, student-facing digital content aligned to the five SEL competencies from Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and includes Virtual Field Trips, videos, podcasts, mindfulness exercises, songs, and reading passages. Many resources in the SEL Center are made possible through generous support from The Allstate Foundation and their commitment to provide high-quality and relevant SEL resources for students, teachers, and school communities. The SEL Center resources feature Discovery Education original content, content from trusted partners like CASEL, Inner Explorer, and Everyday Speech, as well as content created in partnership with LG Electronics USA, Wings for Kids, and RFK Human Rights. The SEL Center is a one-stop shop for teacher access to dynamic SEL supports and will be regularly refreshed with new resources from an expanding array of partners.

To celebrate the contributions, struggles, and triumphs of African Americans during Black History Month and beyond, Discovery Education recently launched the African American Experiences channel. Developed in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District, this new channel includes hundreds of multi-modal digital and instructional resources aligned to the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standard anchor domains and organized by Culture, History, and Politics. Students will be inspired by the stories of changemakers such as Ruby Bridges, Maya Angelou, and Ibram Kendi and additional resources offer educators insight into strategies for teaching African American history.  The resources will help students understand America’s complex history, gain insight into the experiences of classmates, and imagine a more equitable future for all. 

Discovery Education’s latest update includes time-saving instructional strategies and dynamic professional growth opportunities that build teacher capacity and the confidence to inspire learning with dynamic digital resources. Through Discovery Education’s Teacher support channels, such as the SOS Instructional Strategies channel, Learning on Demand: DEN Community channel, English Language Learning (ELL) Center, Professional Learning NOW, and a Professional Learning collection that includes step-by-step guides, videos, and self-paced interactive courses, Discovery Education offers educators at all levels a repository of superior digital resources that support teaching and learning in any environment.

“In today’s classrooms, creating equitable, engaging learning experiences is not only the biggest challenge educators face, but also their most rewarding professional experience,” said Discovery Education Chief Executive Officer, Scott Kinney. “Together, these recent updates to our award-winning K-12 platform empowers educators to more easily integrate the most relevant, authentic, and engaging content, instructional strategies, and professional learning into their work each day, ensuring students the opportunity to continue learning in any environment.”

For more information about Discovery Education’s digital resources and professional learning services, visit www.discoveryeducation.com, and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through Twitter and LinkedIn.

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About Discovery Education
Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms. Through its award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia resources, and the largest professional learning network of its kind, Discovery Education is transforming teaching and learning, creating immersive STEM experiences, and improving academic achievement around the globe. Discovery Education currently serves approximately 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide, and its resources are accessed in over 140 countries and territories. Inspired by the global media company Discovery, Inc., Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and like-minded organizations to empower teachers with customized solutions that support the success of all learners. Explore the future of education at www.discoveryeducation.com.

Contact
Stephen Wakefield
Discovery Education
Email: swakefield@discoveryed.com

Florida’s School District of Osceola County Brings Flexible K-12 Learning Platform and Coding Resources to All Elementary Educators and Students Through Expanded Partnership with Discovery Education

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SILVER SPRING, MD (Thursday,  February 18, 2021)—Florida’s School District of Osceola County (SDOC) today announced the expansion of its multiyear partnership with Discovery Education.  In the latest phase of this collaboration, educators and elementary students in 29 schools will receive access to Discovery Education’s flexible K-12 learning platform, as well as an innovative Coding resource designed to provide elementary students a secure understanding of that important discipline’s fundamentals. Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms.

Earlier this year, the SDOC team was looking for supplemental, cross-curricular digital resources to support elementary students’ continued academic growth during in-person and virtual instruction. The district selected Discovery Education’s flexible K-12 learning platform, which connects educators to a vast collection of compelling high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, and professional learning resources. Together, these resources give educators everything they need to facilitate instruction in any learning environment and create lasting educational impact.

Discovery Education’s team continues adding, contextualizing, and organizing exciting new content and timely resources to the platform each month in response to current events and the ever-evolving needs of educators. These resources, sourced from trusted partners, are aligned to state and national standards, and help educators bring the outside world into teaching and learning every day.

In addition to the Discovery Education learning platform, the district’s elementary teachers and students will soon also begin using Discovery Education Coding. With Discovery Education Coding, elementary and middle school students are inspired to learn important coding concepts as they develop computational thinking skills through decomposition, logical reasoning, and problem solving. Based in part on the award-winning Discovery Education Coding service used by teachers across the United Kingdom, the U.S. version of Coding features a wide array of coding resources that help students take coding from concept to reality.

“The School District of Osceola County is pleased to expand its partnership with Discovery Education,” said Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace. “The new digital resources coming to district elementary school educators will ensure all students access to engaging instructional opportunities in the classroom, online, or in any learning environment.”

SDOC’s partnership with Discovery Education also provides all district teachers access to the Discovery Education Community. A global community of education professionals, the Discovery Education Community connects members across school systems and around the world through social media, virtual conferences, and in-person events, fostering valuable networking, idea sharing, and inspiration.

SDOC’s purchase of Discovery Education’s learning platform and Discovery Education Coding was supported in part by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to leverage the power of philanthropy to mobilize a full range of resources that strengthen the ability of communities to withstand disasters and recover equitably when they occur.

“Discovery Education is excited to deepen its multiyear partnership with the School District of Osceola County,” said Daniel Gammage, Discovery Education’s Senior Manager of Education Partnerships. “What began as an effort to support science instruction in district elementary schools has blossomed into a partnership supporting all elementary school disciplines, and we could not be more honored to support Dr. Pace and her talented team as they provide academic instruction, rigor, and support each school day to the students of Osceola County.”

For more information about Discovery Education’s digital resources and professional learning services, visit  www.discoveryeducation.com and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through Twitter and LinkedIn.

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About Discovery Education

Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms. Through its award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia resources, and the largest professional learning network of its kind, Discovery Education is transforming teaching and learning, creating immersive STEM experiences, and improving academic achievement around the globe. Discovery Education currently serves approximately 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide, and its resources are accessed in over 140 countries and territories. Inspired by the global media company Discovery, Inc., Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and like-minded organizations to empower teachers with customized solutions that support the success of all learners. Explore the future of education at www.discoveryeducation.com.

Contact

Discovery Education
Stephen Wakefield
Email: swakefield@discoveryed.com
Phone: (202) 316-6615

 

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