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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.

Virtual Field Trips for Kids: Worldwide Wonders

Mastercard and Discovery Education Partner to Empower Girls with STEM Learning Through the Signature Girls4Tech™ Program

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Silver Spring, Md. (Thursday, April 22, 2021) — With the goal of providing five million girls with an engaging STEM education by 2025, Mastercard has partnered with Discovery Education to launch the latest phase of the award-winning Girls4Tech initiative. Girls4Tech is Mastercard’s signature science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program geared towards giving girls in middle and high school access to STEM resources and career exploration tools with an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber security. Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms. Together, the partnership aims to reach more than 2 million girls.

In partnership with Discovery Education, Girls4Tech now offers a robust array of no-cost, standards-aligned, and on-demand digital resources that illustrate how technology can be used to solve the problems young people care about. Included in these resources are career profiles featuring Mastercard’s dynamic and diverse group of female cybersecurity professionals who fight hackers and help keep sensitive information safe on a global scale. The career profiles include activities and educator guides that inspire girls to dream big. In addition, this latest phase of partnership features digital lesson bundles focusing on the foundations and evolution of technology and binary code.

“The current and future workforce needs employees with hot skills like cyber and AI, so the more we can do to introduce these subjects in the early years, the better off we’ll all be,” said Susan Warner, vice president, talent management and community engagement, and founder of Girls4Tech. “Our partnership with Discovery Education will help us bring these hot jobs to life.”

To further impact girls around the world, Girls4Tech will also expand to Canada beginning with the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario. The expansion to Canada helps fill the need for Francophone STEM content that sparks interest for girls in topics like AI and cyber security. As part of the expansion, Discovery Education will host future virtual and in-person events focusing on the importance of STEM education for young women, as well as providing educators with resources to integrate STEM into their instructional plans.

“We are incredibly excited to enter this new phase of our partnership with Mastercard,” said Lori McFarling, president of corporate & community partnerships at Discovery Education. “Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Mastercard, we are proud to support young women across the U.S. and now Canada not only see themselves in a future STEM career, but also connect directly to resources that will propel them into the wonderfully wide and curious worlds of science, technology, engineering, and math and beyond.”

In 2019, Mastercard commissioned a study to understand gender and generational differences surrounding perceptions and attitudes of STEM-based topics and programs. The study also explored challenges and motivations students cited for pursuing college majors and careers path. The study showed that women are less confident, receive less encouragement, and need more mentors in STEM. Girls4Tech provides support to young women in each of these critical areas. Learn more about Girls4Tech at girls4tech.discoveryed.com and in Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform.

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 Mastercard (NYSE: MA)
Mastercard is a global technology company in the payments industry. Our mission is to connect and power an inclusive, digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere by making transactions safe, simple, smart and accessible. Using secure data and networks, partnerships and passion, our innovations and solutions help individuals, financial institutions, governments and businesses realize their greatest potential. Our decency quotient, or DQ, drives our culture and everything we do inside and outside of our company. With connections across more than 210 countries and territories, we are building a sustainable world that unlocks priceless possibilities for all.

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.

Contacts
Grace Maliska | Discovery Education | gmaliska@discoveryed.com
Julia Marsh | Mastercard | julia.marsh@mastercard.com

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51 Activities and Events from Discovery Education and Partners Available to Help Educators and Communities Celebrate Earth Day

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Silver Spring, Md. (Monday, April 19, 2021) — To celebrate the 51st Anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2021, Discovery Education and several content, corporate, and community partners present educators, students, and families 51 engaging, curated activities and events. Found online at Discovery Education’s 51 Ways to Earth Day website, these dynamic digital resources inspire students to explore the natural phenomena in the world around them as they observe the 51st Earth Day in the classroom or at home. Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms.

The 51 Ways to Earth Day resources include live events, videos, podcasts, ready-to-use instructional resources, Virtual Field Trips, and fun family activities from Discovery Education’s robust collection of Earth Day content, as well as resources from trusted partners. Among the exciting no-cost events planned are:

Diversity in STEM Discussion: Building a Sustainable Future Through Inclusion
4/20 at 2 p.m. ET

It’s no surprise that diverse perspectives and broader representation can play a significant role in solving the world’s greatest sustainability challenges. But how are we creating opportunities for tomorrow’s diverse change agents to explore interests, grow critical skills, and access real-world opportunities? During this interactive discussion, corporate and educational leaders will examine key actions and strategic programs that allow students to showcase their abilities and ideas, test-drive their interests, and gain valuable network connections.

Save the Ocean with Patrick Dykstra
4/22 at 10 a.m. ET

Meet discovery+’s Chasing Ocean Giants host Patrick Dykstra and learn what inspired him to become an ocean explorer, adventurer and filmmaker, and what we can all do to make the world a better place for wildlife.

Green Goes Live!
4/22 at 12 p.m. ET

Don’t miss this live Twitter chat with Minnesota Twins player Nelson Cruz! Join the team @DiscoveryEd to hear from a real player and pitch in to the conversation.

Learn About Rising Sea Levels with a NASA Scientist
4/22 at 1 p.m. ET

Catch a Q&A session with Dr. Josh Willis, oceanographer, and lead scientist for the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) initiative.

“Connecting my students to real-world learning for Earth Day is made fun and easy thanks to the curated digital content from Discovery Education,” said Genny Kahlweiss, 3rd Grade Teacher at Saint Columban School in the Diocese of Orange, California. “These new resources ensure engaging learning experiences for all my students whether we are learning together in person or remotely.”

Included in the 51 Ways to Earth Day are resources on all things Earth. Students examine the impact of plastics and fast fashion, study polar bear migration, learn about sustainability efforts at Major League Baseball parks, and experience how fragile the Earth is through the eyes of astronauts. Students can explore the wide world with DE original content and instructional resources, as well as trusted content from Discovery Channel, Major League Baseball, World Wildlife Fund, NASA, Newsy, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Science News for Students, and more.

Also available to educators are no-cost resources from several corporate and community partner initiatives – including from Itron, Boeing, Chevron, AES, P&G, and Caterpillar – focused on sustainability and Earth-conscious learning. Covering topics from conservation and the STEM professions involved in going green to the future of cities and recycling, these engaging resources present communities with high quality, standards-aligned content exploring some of the most important topics of our time through engaging media. Find all the Earth Day content in Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform on a specially curated 51 Ways to Earth Day Channel and on the 51 Ways to Earth Day resource page.

“Every year, Earth Day provides educators and students the opportunity to take a closer look at the world around them, and Discovery Education is proud to provide resources that ignite that curiosity and inspire learning,” said Scott Kinney, Discovery Education’s Chief Executive Officer. “By encouraging students to engage with their natural environment, we can inspire lifelong learning as we learn how to make our world a healthier place. Every action—big or small—helps to make a difference.”

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.

Contacts
Grace Maliska
Discovery Education
Email: gmaliska@discoveryed.com

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