Cognia Recertification 2023
Oak Grove Elementary Executive Summary
Oak Grove's STEM journey, like many others, has been unique. It began, officially, four years ago with the hiring of STEM Coordinator Kendall Xides. Kendall is master gardener, first and foremost, with vast knowledge of native and invasive plants, and a true commitment to sustainable, earth-friendly horticulture and environmental education. She realized the power that a learning garden can have – endless opportunities for inquiry, experimentation, and citizen science. In her first two years she transformed a once-drab space into a vibrant and productive outdoor classroom. It's a butterfly garden, a bird sanctuary, a meditation garden, a compost factory, and an outdoor laboratory.
But, the garden is only a piece of what Kendall has accomplished. She has also slowly transformed the way students and teachers think. Early on she introduced us to the Engineering Design Process. Teachers dutifully posted posters and challenged students to use the EDP to solve engineering problems. Design a bridge. Build a boat. We started with Science Nights, and then STEM days, and then school-wide EDP challenges. We were well on our way. We were in contact with the Georgia Department of Education and were positioning ourselves for certification during the 2017-2018 school year.
This is not to say that there weren't bumps along the way. While transforming traditional high achievers to true STEM thinkers and engineers, there was also the nagging distraction of maintaining Oak Grove's high test scores. Data analysis continued to show that many Oak Grove students are what are called "high achiever/low growth." They score well on standardized tests but find it difficult to improve upon those high scores as they progress through the grade levels. When confronted with this reality by district and school administration, Oak Grove teachers did what committed teachers do; they rolled up their sleeves and attacked the standards.
While results have been mixed, a down side emerged. The focus on standards led to classrooms, despite having excellent teachers and bright students, that became risk-averse spaces. Many teachers shied away from bold and innovative projects in an effort to maintain high scores. And the high achiever/low growth problem continued.
Our student population is also naturally averse in taking intellectual risks. These are smart kids with successful and educated parents. They default to seeking the right answer, not the best or most innovative answer. They perform at a high level, and will no doubt succeed after they move on. But the question remains: Are we doing enough to prepare them for what they will face when they enter college and the workplace. Are they, in this setting, truly twenty-first century learners?
So this is where we found ourselves when we entered this current school year. A strong school, leaning toward traditional side of the spectrum, with a STEM program brimming with potential but slowed by external forces.
In a stroke of scheduling genius at the end of the 2016-2017, our Assistant Principal, Cassandra Moore, was able to secure an extra teaching point, and our Principal, Lynda Mauborgne, decided to refocus and redouble our efforts toward achieving STEM certification. A second, full time and certified teacher was added to the STEM team to meet that end. This position focused on STEM professional development, the promotion of technology in the classroom, and the certification effort.
At the beginning of this school year we also learned of a new development. In addition to the Georgia DoE certification process, often at times vague and shifting, there was another option. This is, of course, certification through AdvancED. For a variety of reasons we decided that AdvancED certification was the way for us; it had clear expectations and strong support through our district.
In making this decision, however, we were faced with a new challenge and unexpected. We needed to completely reimagine what STEM was.
Until this year, STEM was an event; it was something we did in isolation, usually an engineering challenge. STEM was popsicle sticks and Legos, fun Fridays and the occasional stimulating evening event.
We soon learned that in the AdvancED way of thinking, STEM is different; it’s systemic. STEM is way more than science, technology, engineering and math. It is all subjects seamlessly integrated in such a way that students drive the learning. The 4 Cs (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication) are the essential skills that students must learn and traditional standards-based content shifts more to the background. Our classrooms needed look different than they did; teachers and students needed to behave differently. We were confronted with the need for no less than a paradigm shift.
So this is where we are as a school community. We have embraced a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. We have tried hard to transfer control of learning to our students. We are - slowly but steadily - making problem-based learning our guiding philosophy.
We have put robust professional learning in place. We added EdCamp-style meetings once a month to tap the expertise within our faculty for professional development. We create STEM Roundtables – monthly curated discussions among of teachers of different grade levels and disciplines – to create a culture of STEM at Oak Grove. And, we developed the Oak Grove STEM Summer Institute – four full days of paid professional learning over this summer and the summers to come devoted fully to project-based learning and the sustainability of our STEM program.
We have seen a demonstrable transformation in the way our students approach their learning, which we hope is evident in our Online Presentation of Evidence. They have become more comfortable taking intellectual risks. They have grown to look for multiple solutions to complex problems. They have learned to collaborate with their peers and with experts in STEM fields and beyond. Most importantly, they are beginning to realize that they are connected to the world outside of Oak Grove, and they can make a meaningful impact on that world.
Oak Grove STEM Indicators Narrative
ST1.1 The STEM school/program supports non-traditional student participation through outreach to groups often underrepresented in STEM program areas.
Our MID students will continue to be a focus for us next year,. We will maintain our relationship with Doug Hamby of Fernbank Science Center to continue to keep these students engaged with the the world around them. We will continue monitoring our hummingbird population, and maintain the group’s commitment to raising money for Special Olympics.
We have and will continue to work with our Student Support Specialist to to identify our “bubble kids” -- those students whose scores on the Measures of Academic Progress or MAP test fall 5 points above or below the 40th percentile. We have found this vulnerable group responds well to STEM instruction in general, with its emphasis in problem solving and critical thinking; they also thrive also in our small groups of “textperts” and in afterschool engagement in garden, STEM PM, or yearbook clubs. Preliminary MAP data from the fall of 2017 to winter of 2018 suggest an increase in 4.5 points in all tested subject areas within this group.
Moving forward, we will be using MAP and Milestone data to also track the progress of another underrepresented but notable section of our population: a group we inartfully call “high achiever/low growth”. For many years we have noted a group (nearly 10%) of high-performing students who do well on standardized tests, but who show little growth year to year. Remediation, test-taking skills, and test prep have done little to remedy the problem. In the past we thought there simply was a ceiling, but as we have become more familiar with STEM and problem-based learning, we have a hunch that these students aren’t being engaged at a high level. STEM and PBL, we believe, are what this group needs to show improvement. We are beginning to track this data now.
ST1.2 Students work independently and collaboratively in an inquiry-based learning environment that encourages finding creative solutions to authentic and complex problems.
A visit to any of our classrooms will show the ease with which our students collaborate and communicate. Many of our teachers have guided students to real-world problem solving: drainage problems at the school, hunger in our outlying communities, helping to fund Special Olympics, addressing the loss of national parkland, and bringing relief to survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
We are committed to our ”paradigm shift” -- to continue to move toward inquiry- and project-based learning as the guiding philosophy at Oak Grove. Moving forward, through robust, STEM-focused professional development, collaboration among teachers, students, and community members, and with the sustained assistance of our dedicated STEM team, we will continue to identify real-world and local problems for our students to attack.
ST1.3 Students are empowered to personalize and self-direct their STEM learning experiences supported by STEM educators who facilitate their learning.
Our shift toward project-based learning and STEM has provided many powerful experiences for our teachers at Oak Grove, but none, perhaps, more fundamental than what results from relinquishing control of the learning. As we have allowed children to self-direct, to collaborate, to implement, to fail, and try again, we have seen levels of excitement and engagement that we used to only see on special event days. Now we are accustomed to the productive buzz of collaboration and focused activity and we see that our kids respond more enthusiastically to intellectual challenges, are able to generate more (and more creative) solutions to problems, and are generally happier and more excited about their learning.
ST1.4 Students use technology resources to conduct research, demonstrate creative and critical thinking, and communicate and work collaboratively.
One of the accomplishments we are most proud of is the development of our STEM Student Profile for grades K-2 and 3-5. In fits and starts for years we have tried to pin down just what we expect our students to know and be able to do, but the effort was always scuttled by changing technology and lack of time. Since we have had two staff members focusing exclusively on our STEM program, we have been able to devise profiles that are at the same time both specific and adaptable to changing technology.
Another milestone reached this year was a move to 1:2 computing environment; more than ever computers and related technologies are simply tools used to accomplish self-determined tasks, rather than tasks themselves.
ST1.5 Students demonstrate their learning through performance-based assessments and express their conclusions through elaborated explanations of their thinking.
A heightened focus on the 4 Cs has transformed our classrooms into increasing collaborative, creative, and student-centered spaces. Students have multiple opportunities, across grade levels and disciplines.
Moving forward, we intend to continue to nurture our ties with community-based stakeholders to demonstrate highlight with the greater community.
Public Service Announcements aired on WOGE Live; Upper/lower-grade mentorships; Science Fair
ST1.6 The interdisciplinary problem-based curriculum includes a focus on real world applications.
Although we can trace our STEM journey back a number of years, In many ways our certification journey began at the start of this school year, with the introduction to project-based learning as a curricular model. Teachers examined Georgia Standards of Excellence across the disciplines, often literally cutting them apart and reordering them, looking for interdisciplinary connections. From these connections we watched for the emergence of real-world problems. From those first days emerged our first PBL units: “How can we help to rebuild after a disaster?” was a direct response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. “The grass we currently have at the back of the school building is not native; how can we solve this to support native flora and fauna in our school environment?” evolved from discussions about the US government selling off national parkland. Not perfect PBL questions, but they certainly grew from real problems.
From these questions, integrated units emerged with an emphasis on STEM disciplines. A civil engineer, for example, challenged fourth graders to build houses that can withstand intense wind after detailing inadequacies in construction practices before
Accompanying these units was a study of the Engineering Design Process and the 4Cs so that we could develop a shared language and mindset.
ST1.7 STEM educators collaborate as an interdisciplinary team to plan, implement, and improve integrated STEM learning experiences.
We have built planning directly into our professional development (see ST1.9 below) because It's clear that planning impactful, interdisciplinary, PBL units requires sustained and dedicated time with seat at the table for all involved: classroom teachers, administration, special ed co-teachers and resource teachers, special area teachers and paraprofessionals. Our STEM leads learned this the hard way this year when we mistakenly focused on classroom teachers, leaving many feeling marginalized. Through a great deal of discussion we have come to the conclusion that the whole staff has something to contribute in a STEM school.
In addition to daily common-planning blocks, we have devoted 2 hours a week of faculty meeting time to collaborative team planning. Teachers have 2 full planning days throughout the year for STEM planning and the vast majority of the STEM Summer Institute will be devoted to team planning.
ST1.8 STEM learning outcomes demonstrate students’ STEM literacy necessary for the next level of STEM learning and for post-secondary and workforce readiness.
After developing the STEM Student Profile, we devised a Profile Checklist to attach to each Oak Grove student. There are two bands, k-2 and 3-5, covering competencies ranging from technology proficiencies to digital citizenship goals. As a student travels through each band, teachers can monitor progress and target skills as needed.
We are also targeting 21st Century skills using the 4 Cs. Teachers encourage and speak explicitly about the need to communicate ideas and work collaboratively to solve problems. We have made the use of higher order thinking questions a priority in class and collaborative group discussions.
Working closely with our Student Support Specialist, we're using MAP data to establish baselines with which to track progress over the next 2-5 years.
ST1.9 STEM teachers and leaders participate in a continuous program of STEM-specific professional learning.
We feel this is an area of strength for us, simply because we realized as a faculty, that for us to be successful as a STEM school, we would have to continually self-evaluate, conduct needs assessment, and pursue the support we need. We also have realized that a good deal of that support can come from within.
Our PD plan as it exists:
- Weekly, one-hour faculty meetings as follows:
- One collaborative team planning day per semester (2 total), with paid substitutes
- STEM Summer Institute
25 hours of STEM training and planning during one week in July paid for by the Oak Grove Foundation. Funding has been secured for the next 4 years (20 hours total next summer, 15 for the subsequent summers)
Looking ahead: Next year we'll evaluate the effectiveness of EdCamp. While wildly received at first as a true confirmation of our professionalism, some may be feeling that it has lost its impact.
ST1.10 Community, post-secondary, and business/industry partners and/or families actively support and are engaged with teachers and students in the STEM program.
Support is provided from many areas in our community. Most closely related to the school is our PTA and Foundation, both of which play in active role in the sustainability of our STEM program. The Oak Grove Foundation funds the part time position of our STEM coordinator and is providing the funds for stipends for the Oak Grove STEM Summer Institute. The foundation also contributes by funding teacher professional development, and provides us with a sizeable budget for Spheros, Cubelets, Drones, STEM related printed materials, and all expenses related to the Teaching Garden.
Our families provide a great deal as well. As seen on our Parent Database, many prents have donated their time to work with our students. Environmental Engineer Karen Durden works with our afterschool Garden Club. Cartoonist Tom Fiester has organized the Comic CLub to teach storyboarding and creative digital skills. Former parent and CDC Environmental Health Geographer has worked with students on GIS projects, and set up and helps maintain our digital weather station Many others have visited classrooms to share expertise and have acted as judges and sponsors for Science Fair, First Lego League competitions, Grovebots, Science Olympiad and more.
We also have a unique relationship with Fernbank Science Center because our STEM Coordinator also works there. Kamal Carter has provided training for staff, presents at Engineer Night (this year's topic: 3D Spacecraft), and Doug Hamby works with our MID classes on topics like Hummingbird Migration and Lichen.
Our fifth graders have worked with the Emory Herbarium staff, including parent and Emory Ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave to establish the Oak Grove Herbarium to preserve and study plants from our garden and surroundings.
After attending a STEM conference session on Nanotechnology presented by Georgia Tech in the fall of 2014, we had the idea for a nanotechnology day at Oak Grove, and chose October 10 for our 10-10 day. Working closely with Joyce Palmer, Nanotechnology Educator at Georgia Tech, and Mary Breen, NanoDays coordinator at Fernbank Science Center, we created a day of hands-on lessons for preK-5th grade that explores the powers of ten, large and small. In 2015 and 2017, Georgia Tech Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology visited on 10-10 Day with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Mrs. Breen assisted in planning activities, provided supplies, and loaned non-consumable items from Fernbank's NanoDays (partnership with NISE - National Informal STEM Education) for Oak Grove to use. Some activities on 10-10 Day include: measuring your height in nanometers, using pocket microscopes to examine money, learning about magnification through binoculars, NNIN's "What is the smallest thing you know" lesson, and exploratory stations with a variety of microscopes, Nanooze Magazine, and a variety of other games and lesson from NISENET and NNIN. Since 2016, all K-3 teachers as well as 4 &5 science teachers have a USB microscope in their classroom. In 2017, our 10-10 Day was featured on the National Nanotechnology Initiative website Nano.gov.
Looking forward, we hope to both maintain our current partners and find new connections for our students. We're hoping to grow our Aquaponics program with the help of HatPonics.
ST1.11 Students are supported in their STEM learning through adult-world connections and extended day opportunities.
This year we developed the Lakeside/Oak Grove Yearbook partnership. This club was made up of Oak Grove extended day students and members of the Lakeside High School yearbook staff. High schoolers mentored 5th grade students, teaching them all aspects of yearbook production including photography skills, photo editing, layout design, and publishing. Fifth graders then worked with Oak Grove parents on a limited number of spreads in our yearbook. In the past all aspects of the Oak Grove yearbook production were parent-run.
Also piloting this year was the Afterschool Garden Club consisting of around 20 third graders enrolled in our extended day program. This year's focus was establishing and maintaining the garden's compost pile, and using it to explore data collection, maintenance, and a variety of scientific experimentation.
Our STEM PM group of approximately 45 third, fourth, and fifth graders met weekly after school for a variety of STEM challenges. The group was shelved due to a staffing issue, but we are looking to reinstate it next year with devoted extended day employee.
Our Science Olympiad team consisted of 30 third, fourth, and fifth graders, and coached by parents, has qualified for the state competition in May.
Our Grovebot Team took on the problem of "fatbergs" in our water system and took home the Grand Champion prize in their regional competition, and Best Robot Design in the super-regional competition,
The fledgling Comics Club, which uses traditional storyboarding and cartooning and looks to add digital techniques, is comprised of over 50 fourth graders.
Oak Grove is hosting a First Lego League Jr. summit and competition with Bouie Elementary in May, and all Oak Grove 3rd graders will compete.
Oak Grove sent six projects to the district Technology Fair for the first time and brought home a second place prize in video production.
Looking ahead: revive STEM PM with dedicated afterschool extended day staff member; continue and expand the work of the Garden Club to include other areas of the campus, and focusing on drainage and erosion issues; increase the number of meetings between high school and elementary yearbook team members and increase the number of spreads done exclusively by Oak Grove students. We also look to increase the role of adult mentorship, particularly in the STEM fields. We have already added "mentor a student or group of students in your field with real-world problems" as a response option for our Parent Database.
AdvancED Self Assessment
AdvancED Self Assessment
Core STEM and Faculty Self Assessments
After completing the self-assessment as a Core Stem Team, we invited the enire faculty to participate, first in September and then again in December via an online form. While we remain our harshest critics, the evolution of our self-awareness is evident. As our principal puts it, "We're moving the mountain."