High School Girls Champion STEM for Elementary Students!

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Peyton Benac with a Pinewood STEM student!

In the fall of 2014 Chemistry teacher Alice Putti had good reason to be impressed. She had been approached by two of her former students, sophomores at the time, who wanted to start a club for high school girls to visit Jenison Elementary schools and do STEM lessons. [STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]

Peyton Benac and Alex Stockholm wanted to take their interest and passion in STEM education to younger girls but they knew they’d need faculty support and financial assistance to do it. But their goal to inspire and encourage students who like the STEM subjects motivated them to move forward and thanks to a grant from the Jenison Education Foundation they were able to launch their group!

They began meeting with other interested high school girls to discuss possible lessons and experiments and getting their hands dirty as they made prototypes. “We tried to get activities from all the STEM fields like math puzzles and an engineering challenge.” says Peyton.  The group visited each elementary school once this fall and 4 – 6 high school students lead the groups of younger students which has varied from 10 – 30 girls!  When one young student was asked her favorite part of STEM she quickly replied “math” but after doing an experiment with conductive play-doh she said, “I like science too.”

Peyton has been involved with Junior High and High School Science Olympiad and she would like to pursue a career in science education. Speaking of her experience on the Science Olympiad team, “I remember being a seventh grade girl and wishing there were role models. The problem isn’t that girls are less interested or less talented but they try it once and it’s weird, none of their friends are there, it’s uncomfortable, there’s no role models. So we wanted to create a program that would open that door for them and make it seem a little less scary.”

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Sandy Hill Girls in STEM!

In preparation for their presentations the team watched “a lot of TED Talks from women who have succeeded in STEM fields talking about what they went through when they were younger. We read parts of “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg talking about finding success in male dominated fields  and I think that gave us the background to want to do this with the elementary girls. We thought that we could provide that role model and tell them that we passionately love STEM and we think you should too…”  Ultimately, the group would love to see more female students stick it out in Science Olympiad, Robotics , AP Computer Science, AP Calculus or AP Stats.

Mrs Putti says that “from the beginning I was incredibly impressed when they came to me with this idea, to have the vision and goals they had and I thought, not only do I want to be supportive of you because you’re my students, but your goals are incredibly mature goals.”  In Jenison High School there are “more women taking life science classes such as Earth science and biology rather than physics or chemistry. There are less women in math and computer science than there are in sciences.”  With the new focus on STEM education teachers are hopeful that these numbers will change.  “I think the fact that they are being introduced to it early that is important. When we talk to girls at our STEM club meetings there are a lot of them that are excited about STEM but I would guess that at that level  those kids would have been excited about those subjects anyway. Our goal is to keep them excited.”

Peyton wants to encourage parents and other adults invested in girls’ lives to be thoughtful in how they are encouraged. “I think that everyone should be conscious of the passion that these young girls have for STEM and especially if they have young daughters to see that as kind of the best thing.”

If you’d like to encourage an elementary girl to attend the next STEM meeting please check out this flyer for the details and where to sign up!

Or if you’d like to find out how you can contribute to continuing the work of the Girls STEM Club in Jenison next year please contact Alice Putti:  aputti@jpsonline.org for information on their forthcoming Go Fund Me account!

Thank you to Alex, Peyton and Mrs Putti for being the role models our young girls need! We are so grateful that you pursued your goals and are investing in our future STEM leaders!

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Pinewood Girls try to crack the code with a little encouragement from their high school mentor!

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Rosewood Girls in STEM hard at work!

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Pinewood girls conquer the engineering challenge!

Teachers Take Time to Learn

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Professional Development is an important part of any job but especially for our teachers and administrators.  Last Tuesday, February 18 Jenison teachers and administrators were given the opportunity to be the students and learn new and exciting teaching methods. 

Discovery Education came to the district to teach two seminars for our Elementary teachers:

Literacy and Common Core in a Digital World Discovery which is heavy with focus on English Language Arts and
Teaching and Assessing Math in a Common Core Digital World which has a focus in Math.
Curriculum Director, Kristy Rogalla explains what each of these Academies meant to teachers attending:
“We were fortunate to be selected to host the Academic Academies in Michigan this spring. We have been incorporating the anchor standards of the common core this school year. Specifically, we have been working on increasing the depth of knowledge of tasks and questions asked of students, student engagement, informational literacy, using learning targets to guide instruction and turning these into student friendly “I can” statements so students understand the purpose and outcomes of lessons and more.  When we had the opportunity to enhance the learning of our staff with the highly skilled Discovery trainers, it was an opportunity we could not pass up.  The trainers are also skilled in teaching staff how to use technology as a tool increase student engagement and outcomes.”
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Also attending the training were about 160 educators from other parts of the state including the Upper Peninsula.  “Discovery provides high quality training’s and fortunately these most recent ones were free. The trainers traveled from a few places around the country.”
Teachers were grateful for the training and are already making plans to implement what they were taught into their lessons.
“The Discovery Education Math Academy (Teaching and Assessing Common Core Math in a Digital World) was a wonderful professional development experience.  Not only were we able to gain a better sense of how the new standards require students to demonstrate a variety of skills — from students’ fact fluency to their ability to solve rigorous, real-world problems — the workshop also highlighted many digital tools and resources that teachers will be able to integrate into their classrooms right away.  We have such wonderful technology here at Jenison, and I am excited to use some of the tools to enhance my instruction.”  — Julie Clark, 4th Grade Teacher, Sandy Hill Elementary
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Principals also attending the Academies [as well as an additional day of Discovery Training on Wednesday] and Rachael Postle-Brown, Pinewood Principal, echoes Julie’s gratitude and excitement:
“What I hope teachers took away from the Professional Development was a deeper understanding of the Common Core State Standards and some tools to help integrate them into their classroom.  The Discovery presenters did a really nice job of showing digital tools that will help our instructors use technology to engage our students in meaningful problem solving and application.”
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The High School staff had their own day of Professional Development focusing on adolescent brain development and the brain functioning and connections. The goal of the High School in-service was to kick off the curriculum initiative for the second semester which is focused on creating innovative multidisciplinary projects.  “We know that learning is more powerful when students see connections across content areas.  Integrated studies provide opportunities for students to think critically and creatively, to apply their learning to real-world situations, to use literacy strategies with new technologies, and to develop interpersonal skills that will be essential to their success in a rapidly changing world.” — Eileen Maday, Curriculum Specialist at Jenison High School
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“We began our day with a presentation from Donna St. John of Kendall College and the Brain Institute.  Our goal was to gain a better understanding of how brain function impacts learning.  The presentation included a dissection activity in which we studied the anatomy of the brain and the latest research on how to engage students to harness the power of the brain as we teach.  It was fascinating!  Empowered with this information, our staff is now working on developing multidisciplinary projects which connect content areas in new and exciting ways.”

Thank you, teachers, for continuing to dedicate yourselves to lifelong learning for our students!

New Technology: An interview with Tech Director, Dave Tchozewski

With a new school year just days away, the district is working feverishly to prepare hundreds of new Google Chrome books for technology-hungry students. In the midst of the frenzy, Jenison Technology Director Dave Tchozewski had a chance to catch up with us to answer a few questions:

1. Jenison has traditionally purchased Mac computers. Why the switch?

We aren’t switching. We are adding another type of device to our supply of devices available for student learning. With the addition of Chromebooks, we will now be able to offer our K-6 students three different devices to use: iPads, Chromebooks, and MacBook Pros. At the high school, we continue to offer Windows computers too. We are not abandoning the use of Mac computers. We have over 300 Macs for staff use and over 800 Macs available throughout the district for student use.

2. How many Chrome books have you purchased, and where/how do you intend to use them?

We have purchased 612 Chromebooks. Those will be distributed on mobile carts throughout each building with the exception of the ECC.  The Chromebook is an ideal device for districts such as ours that use Google Apps for Education. Most of our grade 3 – 12 students use Google Apps on a regular basis and this “tool” allows for seamless and easy access to any documents created in their Google account.

chrome books, Jenison Public Schools

3. Will these devices replace current computers and tablets or add to your options?

We are adding to our technology options. This is with intent. While many districts commit to one device, we are offering three: iPads, Chromebooks, and MacBook Pros. We want our teachers to develop student projects and then choose the device that will best help students accomplish their task(s). It is not a “one device fits all” world. We are proud to offer several options for teaching and learning.

4. What’s special about a Chrome book?

There are four things that make the Chromebook attractive. First, this device is built specifically for Google Apps users. Second, much of the work done by students requires access to the internet. The Chromebook provides easy access to the internet with a simple interface and operating system. Third, the Chromebook runs on the Chrome operating system and is 100% cloud based.  There is no need for local computer storage of files as they are automatically stored in the cloud. Fourth, it sells for a very attractive price at $249. It really is a robust machine for that price.

chrome books, Jenison Public Schools

5. Did the district purchase any other new technology this summer? If so, please explain.

  • We installed a high quality security camera system at our Junior and Senior High Schools.
  • Our wireless coverage was enhanced this summer with the installation of additional wireless access points. This will provide a better teaching and learning experience for our teachers using iPads in their classroom.
  • We purchased 500 iPads for student use throughout the district. Each building will have at least 60 iPads available on mobile carts.
  • We purchased additional PC laptops for use in the Jenison International Academy.
  • Each classroom in the district has been updated to current classroom technology over the last two summers. They now have an integrated sound system, document camera, digital projector, Apple TV, iMac computer, and iPad.

chrome books, Jenison Public Schools

6. Was this purchase funded by the bond that is building the Fine Arts Center?

The bond that was supported a few years ago by our community is funding these technology purchases. The bond had several parts to it including roofing, technology, the Performing Arts Center and more.

7. As the JPS tech director, would you be willing to explain your involvement with Discovery education  and how your experience with them informs and prepares you for the district’s plans moving forward?

 JPS subscribes to Discovery Education services for teaching and learning. Discovery is best known for providing streaming videos but they offer a very rich supply of other educational resources that cover all grade levels and subjects. Teachers and students can access an array of images, videos, audio files, articles, interactive items and much more.

Our elementary schools have used Discovery Assessment resources as well. The assessment program does a terrific job of providing roadmaps to learning for students. The program is diagnostic and prescriptive, meaning that it shows a students weaknesses AND provides resources that can help a student strengthen those learning areas. In other words, the assessment tells you where students are weak and provides a way to strengthen those specific weak areas.  That is targeted, individualized learning.

This year, the district has adopted the Discovery Science Techbook for our elementary science curriculum. The highly rated Science Techbook is an engaging interactive science curriculum that is built to take advantage of computers, tablets and other mobile technology. Each of the devices we are providing for student use can be used to work with the Science Techbook.

I have been fortunate to work closely with Discovery Education over the last four years as we have increased our use of Discovery products. For each of the past four summers, I have been selected to attend the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute. This is a weeklong gathering of over 125 Discovery using educators from across the world. During the institute, we work together to develop ways to better use Discovery resources in our districts. That terrific experience helps me to do a better job of supporting our teachers and students when they are using Discovery services.

Our sincere thanks to Dave for his willingness to share these exciting updates!