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STEM pattern

STEM pattern

Saint Clement School


School Location:
Chicago, IL

Kristina Schrage
Alyssa Sturgeon
Donna Terrasi

School Website:

What is the focus of your STEM Blueprint work this year?

Our school team’s goal is to help students develop greater problem-solving and critical thinking skills. We plan to achieve this by weaving integrated (cross-curricular) STEM opportunities across all grade levels and doing this through purposeful vertical alignment; this simply means creating a plan of what lessons and coursework our students will experience throughout their time at St. Clement.

We want to build our vertical alignment from Pre-K - 8th grade to enhance our curriculum and eradicate gaps and redundancies in science.  If students possess a broader and stronger concept base, then they will be better able to interweave the STEM disciplines. We also hope to place a special emphasis on the process by which students solve problems and how they reflect on this journey, rather than merely placing a value on a students’ end-of-unit work product.  

In order to achieve a natural and relevant vertical alignment in our curriculum, we need to provide support and time for our all our teachers.  Providing professional development will not only support STEM initiatives, but it will also reinforce and remind us all of the core education practices that paint the broad strokes of great teaching; our team truly hopes to rally together our colleagues with the same sense of inspiration and excitement for STEM education that we felt while we were at Notre Dame.

Most importantly, we want to complement faith development in our school community by encouraging our students to bear witness to real-world problems and by engaging them as stakeholders in making their world a better place.   

What are one or two exciting STEM experiences that have happened at your school this year?

We feel excited about the swelling momentum for our middle school STEM integration project. The sixth grade students are being called to design and construct a community peace garden. Students will apply their knowledge of various environmental factors to create a 2D scale model of a garden that they’ve designed. They will pitch their designs to community stakeholders for analysis and evaluation. We are in the midst of working with the Pastor to make logistical decisions before moving forward with the students.  

In our classrooms, 8th graders are studying energy and have been exploring concepts related to energy conservation, transformation, and transfer; they have observed that these changes are often the result of forces such as friction, gravity, and magnetism.  Students worked on a design project to investigate the transformation from gravitational potential (GPE)) to kinetic energy (KE) in a roller coaster and the impact that frictional forces have on that change and on the total energy (mechanical energy - ME). Using a roller coaster model, they took measurements of height, weight, distance and time to calculate and graph GPE, KE, and ME.  They could see that the total energy throughout the coaster decreases due to frictional forces and could see from their graphs the relationship between kinetic and potential energy.

Students used the measurements and scale of the model to help them design and build their own coasters and to explore additional forces and factors such as centripetal force and loops.They were also able to experience and calculate the difference between average and instantaneous speed.  The use of several roller coaster interactives also helped students throughout the design process. Final student projects included energy calculations and graphs as well as project presentations and analysis of data. Students will build on these concepts to investigate energy efficiency and the use of energy resources.

In what ways have you been able to engage other members of your school, local community, or STEM Teaching Fellows?

We have received wonderful feedback from our school community after presenting some broad context about the fellowship to the general parent population at our Fall Welcome (back-to-school night), and some more specific details about our Action Plan and our middle school STEM peace garden project to the school board.  We feel that the garden project will continue to garner great enthusiasm from students, parents, and the parish community. We plan to call on the help of all of these stakeholders, through their gifts of time and talent, to join us in creating this prayerful greenspace.

Furthermore, we have created a meaningful setting for students in all grades and built student excitement for STEM by providing them with a deeper experience of the engineering design process and an array of new tech in STEAM class, by offering a free after-school coding club, and by engaging critical thinking skills by incorporating STEM activities as well as productive talk moves in middle school science and math classes.  This has engaged our students in a way that has served as a catalyst for change by grabbing the attention of students’ families and other classroom teachers. These “baby steps” have changed the setting for STEM in our school, because our students’ appetite for exciting and engaging science, technology, engineering, and math learning opportunities has grown, creating a natural call to action for our school community to meet the needs and wants of our students and families.

In the next several weeks, we also look forward to engaging our full faculty in a STEM integration experience that will serve as a professional development opportunity.  Faculty members will explore the interrelationship of force, area and pressure as they become civil engineers designing structures that can hold a maximum amount of weight.  We hope that this experience will build both excitement for STEM and recognition of how teachers might plan and implement an authentic STEM integration activity in their own classrooms.