Defined STEM – Mahoning ESC Case Study
Looking for a better solution
When faced with a challenge, finding solutions for your own school district can be challenging enough. Compared with traditional administrators, Jason Braddock has a little more to worry about – after all, he is responsible for overseeing 16 school districts at once!
As the instructional supervisor for secondary math and K-12 STEM for Mahoning Educational Service Center, the decisions Braddock makes affect 35,000 students in Ohio.
“STEM is a growing interest across the United States, especially in our region,” said Braddock, whose ESC piloted the Ohio STEM Learning Network. “We are always looking for the most effective options to teach STEM education, and we strive to be at the forefront of conversations about this important topic.”
Braddock noticed that their current STEM solutions were great at addressing science and math but often they left out big pieces of the puzzle, such as literacy and social studies.
“We really needed something that everybody could share across grade levels and subject areas,” said Braddock. That’s when he heard about Defined STEM.
Trying something new
Neighboring counties around Mahoning ESC had recently received grant money to start implementing curriculum from Defined STEM.
“We were caught in a STEM sandwich between two counties that already had access to the curriculum!” said Braddock, laughing. “So I had already been researching Defined STEM, and then I got a call from a company representative.”
After seeing how the product worked, Braddock was hooked. “I really liked how it helped integrate the core contents with other subjects. Rather than separating the projects and saying, ‘This one’s for English class, and this one’s for math class,’ Defined STEM focused on cross-curricular instruction,” he said.
Together with the company representative, Braddock applied for an e-textbook grant through the Ohio Board of Regents and iLearnOhio. Braddock rounded up a group of nine districts in his ESC to pilot the program, and in April 2014, they were awarded the grant for two years. “Defined STEM was great to work with through that process,” said Braddock. “I could tell it was going to be a great ‘up-and-coming’ product.”
Teachers excited about cross-curricular instruction
That summer, Braddock gathered teachers from the nine pilot districts together for a two-day professional development session. While everyone seemed to appreciate how user-friendly the website itself was, Braddock said he enjoyed watching teachers find that “lightbulb moment” when they realized just how much potential the product had.
“It was so fun to see our English teachers and even our gym teachers trying to brainstorm ways to tie in this curriculum to their classrooms,” said Braddock. “It’s pretty common for those teachers to feel marginalized when we’re talking about STEM, so I was glad this conversation could include everybody.”
In the following months, the teachers took full advantage of their new resource. Braddock was recently invited to judge a cross-curricular competition that teachers had spun off from a Defined STEM project. Student teams were assigned a region in the United States, and they had to create a self-sustaining restaurant for that area. Nearly every subject area was involved, including:
- Social studies: Students researched the demographics of the region to determine what kind of restaurant would make sense for their customer base.
- Science: Students identified the compound and renewable energy sources they could use to cut back costs and carbon footprints for their restaurants.
- Math: Students came up with equations to set the most fair, profitable prices for their restaurants to charge.
- Choir: Students wrote a catchy advertising jingle to promote their restaurants.
- English: Students wrote the business model for their restaurants, as well as a pitch to investors and potential business partners.
“I was very impressed with the students’ creativity,” said Braddock. “The kids seemed thoroughly engaged with the project and really did a nice job with it.” For Braddock, this project was the perfect example of what makes Defined STEM so unique.
“Defined STEM addresses the whole child. It takes everything they know in multiple subjects and helps them apply it to real-world situations,” said Braddock. “It also allows them to collaborate with others who may have different skill sets, which is so important for ‘21st Century learners’ to do.”