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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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Discovery Education Selected by California’s Fontana Unified School District to Help Five Elementary Schools Reach “Moonshot” Goal of Enhancing STEM Education

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— New Digital Content and Professional Learning Opportunities from Discovery Education Empower District Educators to Create Immersive STEM and Math Learning Experiences–

Silver Spring, MD (August 21, 2019) — California’s Fontana Unified School District (FUSD) announced today it has selected Discovery Education to support the enhancement of STEM and Math education in the school system.  In this new phase of FUSD’s multiyear partnership with Discovery Education, educators in five district elementary schools will receive access to engaging STEM-focused digital content and sustained professional learning opportunities, and all 6th, 7th and 8th grade Math teachers will begin integrating the company’s digital curriculum into Math instruction.  Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms, and has provided FUSD educators district-wide access to its award-winning digital content services since 2015.

Located in Southern California’s Inland Empire, FUSD’s 45 schools serve approximately 41,000 students in a rapidly growing community 50 miles east of Los Angeles. While each school supports the district’s goal of ensuring every student is prepared for success in college, career, and life, every FUSD school or department is also challenged with reaching a “moonshot” goal designed to help propel the district into the future. At a recent district retreat, school leaders from Canyon Crest Elementary School, Randall Pepper Elementary School, Shadow Hills Elementary School, South Tamarind Elementary School, and Tokay Elementary School chose enhancing STEM education as their “moonshot” goal.  To support this endeavor, those schools worked with FUSD’s administration to find an external partner that could provide the needed resources and professional learning.  Following a rigorous review process, FUSD selected Discovery Education to provide the digital content and professional development support needed to build cultures of STEM teaching and learning in the five participating schools.

“Fontana Unified School District is incredibly proud of our five-year track record of continuous student improvement,” said FUSD’s Director Professional Development and Teacher Support Adele Thomas.  “However, each member of the district staff knows we cannot rest on our previous achievements.  To continue our trajectory of improvement, FUSD needs to push forward with both bold ideas and dedicated, high-quality partners.  We are excited to continue our partnership with Discovery Education, and we are look forward to working closely with their talented team on this project.”

STEM Connect is among the new Discovery Education digital services teachers from the five schools participating in this initiative will shortly begin integrating into classroom instruction.  STEM Connect is a cutting-edge, web-based, interdisciplinary K-8 supplemental resource. STEM Connect helps students develop the creative, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills they need for success beyond graduation, and was recently awarded the prestigious CODiE award by the Software and Information Industry Association. Featuring flexible, modular learning units, STEM Connect provides students an easy-to-follow educational experience that includes real-world challenges, career connections, and hands-on activities.

Educators at the five schools participating in this initiative will also receive sustained, job-embedded, professional development certified as meeting the Global STEM Alliance (GSA) STEM Education Framework, which was developed by the New York Academy of Sciences and SRI Education. During these interactive professional learning opportunities, educators will learn how to maximize their new digital resources, develop high-quality STEM lessons, scale STEM instruction in their schools, and create centers of STEM excellence.

In addition, educators at every FUSD 6th, 7th and 8th classroom will also soon begin using Discovery Education’s Math Techbook for teaching and learning.  An immersive digital curriculum, Discovery Education’s family of Techbooks are aligned to rigorous standards and updated regularly at no cost. Each Techbook provides educators with detailed lesson plans, embedded formative assessments, hands-on activities, digital simulations, and robust teacher supports that deeply engage students in learning. The Math Techbook connects students to math through real-world problems, helping all learners develop long-lasting mastery of mathematical concepts. In addition, the Math Techbook has been independently verified by EdReports.org to meet the highest levels of mathematical content and pedagogy.

FUSD educators districtwide will also continue receiving support from 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.

“Discovery Education is proud to support the five FUSD schools participating in this unique STEM initiative and we look forward to working with 6th, 7th and 8th Math teachers across the district as they integrate our services into instruction,” said Jeree Gooing, Discovery Education Partnerships Manager.  “Together, we will create the unique culture of STEM teaching and learning we know will help FUSD students succeed beyond graduation.”

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 Facebook, follow us on Twitter at @DiscoveryEd, or find us on Instagram and Pinterest.

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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’s services are available in approximately half of U.S. classrooms and primary schools in the U.K. and reach over 5 million educators and 51 million students in more than 90 countries. 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: (240) 463-2894

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New Content Added to Discovery Education’s Digital Services Help Teachers Welcome Students Back to the Classroom

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– Content Recently Added to Digital Services Boost Teachers’ Ability to Engage Students in Math, Science, Social Studies, and More –

Silver Spring, MD (August 15, 2019) — To help educators welcome students back to the classroom after summer vacation, Discovery Education–the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms–has added immersive new assets to its award-winning digital services. With the new digital resources coming to Discovery Education Experience, the Math, Science, and Social Studies Techbooks, and STEM Connect, educators gain even more great resources to help them build dynamic digital learning environments. New content recently added to Discovery Education’s services include:

  • All New Shark Week 2019 Content: The new school year will be JAW-some with featured programs and related instructional resources from Shark Week 2019! In Expedition Unknown: Megalodon, explorer Josh Gates and a team of paleontologists study ancient shark teeth to uncover why giant mega-sharks went extinct. In Extinct or Alive: The Lost Shark, biologists explore the Indian Ocean to find out if the rare Pondicherry shark has returned. And in “Return to Shark Island,” shark scientist Dr. Craig O’Connell examines the sudden increase of bull sharks on Achill Island. All programs are now available in Discovery Education Experience and Science Techbook.
  • Step Up to the Plate: Students will explore their impact on the environment, learn about the importance of environmental stewardship, and discover how sustainability plays a role in Major League ballparks around the country in six new videos and activities developed in partnership with Major League Baseball. Now available in Discovery Education Experience and Science Techbook, each video and activity introduces an MLB club and presents a different conservation effort including recycling, local food sourcing, water conservation, and energy efficiency. By learning how baseball teams address these important sustainability issues, students will be challenged to think about how they can make a difference in their own communities.
  • Engineering and Biology Programs from Science Channel: More than 50 new programs from Science Channel have been added to the Discovery Education Experience and Science Techbook. Incredible Engineering Blunders: Fixed travels with journalist Justin Cunningham as he documents, and tries to fix, some of the worst engineering mistakes in history. Students can explore the danger posed by viral disease in “Invisible Killers” and consider the efforts to eradicate these threats at a global scale. And new episodes of favorite series “Outrageous Acts of Science” showcase the science that powers the Internet’s most viral videos.
  • New Short-Form Videos from CheddarK-12: More than 50 original, short-form videos have been added to the collection of CheddarK-12 series available to Discovery Education Experience and Techbook users. The short-form content explores, examines, and explains answers to questions teachers and students may be curious about related to science, business, and technological innovations. Discovery Education Experience users can find all new programs in the CheddarK-12 channel.
  • Investigation and Conservation Content from Animal Planet: In Jeremy Wade’s Mighty Rivers, biologist and extreme wrangler Jeremy Wade helps students using Discovery Education Experience and Social Studies Techbook answer questions about the health, sustainability, and hidden depths of our most important waterways, including the Amazon, the Ganges, the Yangtze, the Mississippi, the Danube, and the Zambezi.
  • History Content from American Heroes Channel: Through Tuskegee Airmen: Heroes of World War II, former pilots from the famed African American unit share their stories of flying some of the most dangerous missions of the Second World War. This content, also added to Discovery Education Experience and Social Studies Techbook, helps students understand the contributions of these brave airmen and puts their tremendous stories into context for today’s students.
  • Math Videos and Interactives Now Available in Spanish: Math Techbook and Discovery Education Experience users now have access to more than 50 core-concept video clips and interactives in Spanish. The programs cover such topics as functions, Pythagorean theorem, similarity and congruence, and probability. Students will apply their math knowledge to solve real-world problems from biologists, urban planners, and emergency rescue teams.

Users of Discovery Education’s digital services can quickly find this new content here.

“Just as students are preparing to return to the classroom, I’m preparing new lessons that will engage my teachers in learning and trigger their sense of curiosity about the wealth of Discovery Education resources,” said Darlene Petranick, Elementary Science Specialist, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. “The new content coming to Discovery Education’s services could not come at a better time, and I am excited to begin to use them in my district.”

In addition to the new content recently added to Discovery Education’s services, more is on the way. Coming soon, a new Conservation channel for Discovery Education Experience users will inspire students to take informed action on large-scale issues impacting our planet. The channel will feature videos and images directly from World Wildlife Fund’s vast collection, offering students and educators an inside look at WWF’s efforts to support conservation along six goals: climate, food, freshwater, forests, oceans, and wildlife.

“Discovery Education sends along its best wishes to educators and students everywhere for a great school year. To help teachers make classroom instruction as impactful as possible this year, we’ve added exciting new content to all our digital services that will immerse students of all ages in teaching and learning,” said Discovery Education Chief Product Officer Pete Weir. “This effort is part of our ongoing effort to make sure our services and content continue to evolve and meet the changing needs of students worldwide.”

For more information about Discovery Education’s digital curriculum, content services, and professional learning opportunities, visit www.discoveryeducation.com, and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through Facebook, follow us on Twitter at @DiscoveryEd, or find us on Instagram and Pinterest.

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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’s services are available in approximately half of U.S. classrooms and primary schools in the U.K. and reach over 5 million educators and 51 million students in more than 90 countries. 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: (240) 463-2894

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Discovery Education Announces the Acquisition of Inspyro

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— Purchase of UK-Based Leader in Virtual and Augmented Reality Content Highlights Discovery Education’s Commitment to Providing Students Worldwide Immersive Learning Experiences —

Silver Spring, MD. (August 7, 2019)Discovery Education, the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms, today announced the acquisition of leading virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) provider Inspyro. Terms were not disclosed.

Discovery Education’s acquisition of the UK-based Inspyro is a critical component of the company’s global content and product strategy.  VR and AR content empowers educators to create immersive learning experiences such as virtual science labs and virtual field trips either back through history or to places students cannot easily or safely visit.  While VR and AR content is currently available across Discovery Education’s digital services, the purchase of Inspyro provides the company an in-house ability to quickly design, build, and integrate new VR and AR content into its award-winning Math, Science, and Social Studies Techbooks, the new Discovery Education Experience, and other digital solutions.

“For almost 20 years, Discovery Education has provided the educators it serves the innovative digital resources and best-in-class professional learning they need to create engaging learning experiences for all students,” said Discovery Education Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy Philip Nanney. “The purchase of Inspyro and the addition of their talented staff to the Discovery Education team expands our capacity to develop and quickly deploy VR and AR content educators can use to create captivating lessons that ignite students’ natural curiosity.”

Winners of multiple prestigious Bett Awards, Inspyro is a highly regarded, experienced VR and AR developer.  The creators of curriculum-aligned learning modules supporting science, history, and geography instruction across the UK, Insypro is a full-service company whose assets can be scaled across multiple platforms and are compatible with various VR headsets and displays.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to bring our technology and approach to the most trusted and respected brand in education,” said Phil Birchinall, Managing Director at Inspyro.  “Discovery Education shares our commitment to bringing teachers and learners the immersive technology they need to create modern learning environments, and we look forward working together on that joint mission.”

“VR and AR content has the ability to help create truly transformative learning experiences for all students,” said Hall Davidson, Discovery Education Senior Director of Global Learning Initiatives.  “The addition of Insypro’s high-quality educational assets to Discovery Education’s services, which are currently used by over 5 million educators and 51 million students around the globe, will accelerate the use of this valuable content and help create unforgettable classroom experiences that will drive deeper student engagement and ultimately improved academic achievement.”

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 Facebook, follow us on Twitter at @DiscoveryEd, or find us on Instagram and Pinterest.

###

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’s services are available in approximately half of U.S. classrooms and primary schools in the U.K. and reach over 5 million educators and 51 million students in more than 90 countries. 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: (240) 463-2894

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