• by Felix Montes, Ph.D., and Deborah Rice • IDRA Newsletter • March 2015 •

In a survey of 533 students attending six schools participating in the Judson school district’s STEM Initiative, 55.9 percent chose science as their favorite subject; mathematics was their second most popular subject, selected by 44.1 percent of the students. The district’s STEM Initiative is a collaborative partnership to pursue innovative strategies that enhance learning opportunities and student achievement in mathematics, technology and science in grades 5 and 8, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Education Agency. IDRA conducted an evaluation of the program for the 2013-14 school year.

In addition to the students, other project stakeholders were surveyed, including administrators, teachers, and parents. In fact, 90.0 percent of the adult stakeholders felt that the project was “very important” or “important.” This project “is vital to our nation’s future [because] the ability for students to actively investigate STEM concepts is priceless in preparing them for such disciplines,” said one participant.

The project’s intent was to infuse technology into classroom activities, introducing innovative ways of teaching STEM subjects to prepare students for the future, and to provide military-connected students with socio-emotional support to meet their unique needs.

Nearly 10 percent of the students surveyed reported that they participated in the student support group, where they received personalized socio-emotional assistance to deal with military-connected issues. About 20.5 percent of the 4,919 students benefiting from the project were military connected.

The STEM Classroom

When asked to describe how the project changed daily classroom activities, 62 percent of the students indicated that it made activities more hands-on. They also welcomed the increased use of technology for a variety of purposes, including doing research, experimentation or simulation; improving mathematics and science learning; and supporting work on projects or in teams or for self-directed work.

They felt that the project made classes more enjoyable, thereby increasing their level of engagement. In fact, they reported using technology in the classroom in the following proportions: 96 percent used laptops, 56.4 percent used calculators, 33 percent used probeware, and 26.1 percent used Labquest 2. The project was designed to value student proclivity to investigate, create and work with others using technology as mediational tools.

More than half of the students (51.2 percent) reported that they learned to use some new software, including Labquest, TI Inspire, Probeware, Logger Pro and Microsoft Office productivity package – all of which they used to conduct research for interesting projects with other students, such as zombie apocalypse lab simulations, crime scene investigations, and making solar cookers.

Technology was used to enhance content learning. Out of the 521 students who responded to this question in the online survey, nearly half (48.5 percent) reported improvements in their understanding of a variety of STEM concepts because of the project. The largest improvements were in familiarity with the technology provided by the project (80.2 percent), finding science a more interesting subject than before (65.6 percent), and using the materials and technology provided by the project often (63.3 percent).

In general, all participants had a very positive outlook about the project’s potential and outcomes, as 63.9 percent felt that the project was already having a positive effect on classroom instruction, raising student interest in the STEM fields and improving their academic achievement. The summative aspect of the evaluation confirmed this sentiment as the following findings show.

Summative Findings

Military-connected students performed better on the state-mandated STAAR science assessment (82.7 percent passing) this year than military-connected students in the baseline year (77.0 percent passing) in both grades. And all project students performed better in mathematics (92.8 percent passing) this year than fifth and eighth graders combined in the baseline year (81.2 percent passing). In addition, the students earned better end-of-year grades than the baseline students in both the fifth grade (86.8 percent passing versus 83.6 percent passing) and eighth grade (83.3 percent passing versus 79.0 percent passing).

Attendance – The target elementary campuses had higher attendance improvement in the fifth grade than the other campuses. These campuses improved by an average 0.30 percentage points, from 96.45 percent to 96.75 percent attendance, compared to only a 0.03 percentage point gain, from 96.45 percent to 96.48 percent, at the other campuses.

The participating middle school had higher attendance improvement in the eighth grade than the other middle schools. The campus improved by an average 0.26 percentage points, from 96.17 percent to 96.43 percent attendance, compared to a decrease of 0.23 percentage points, from 96.85 percent to 96.62 percent, at the other campuses.

Discipline – The target elementary campuses had higher discipline improvement in the fifth grade than the other campuses. These campuses improved by a median reduction of 13 disciplinary incidents, compared to an 11.5 median reduction at the other campuses.

The target middle school had dramatically higher discipline improvement in the eighth grade than the other middle schools. The campus improved by 266 fewer disciplinary incidents, from 556 incidents (baseline year) to 290 incidents (project year) compared to an average increase of 47.5 incidents, from 428.25 (baseline year) average incidents to 475.75 average incidents (project year) at the other campuses.

Future Improvements

In addition to the acquisition and deployment of the technology, professional development was at the core of the intervention. Teachers, administrators and parents participated in substantial professional development activities that involved technology, pedagogy and family engagement. The coordination and integration of all project activities were crucial. Some of the most successful strategies in this regard involved: (a) developing a 30/60/90 day implementation plan; (b) developing rapport with the target campuses and teachers involved in the grant; (c) developing a strong network base in the community for support and guidance; and (d) having an open line of communication that individuals involved in the grant can call upon at any time.

When asked about additional training or other support needed to perform their project functions better, administrators, teachers and parents provided important suggestions, including training to improve positive leadership and advocacy for quality education and a better school climate; more strategies to help students adjust and improve their social and emotional needs and academic success; continuous refreshers of the technology training; improved communications; more parent training, including technology and Internet safety; and curricular and pedagogical training that would more explicitly link the project with the TEKS (state-mandated curricular guidance). This demonstrates a commitment by all stakeholders to improve the project as it embarks on its second year of implementation after a successful first year.

Felix Montes, Ph.D., is an education associate in IDRA’s Department of Student Access and Success. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at felix.montes@idra.org. Deborah Rice is the project director of the Judson ISD DoDEA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) grant.

[©2015, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2015 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]