A California State University, Northridge professor of elementary education is working with the state Department of Education to increase local elementary students’ interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering, art and math — what educators call STEAM. Professor Susan Belgrad has partnered with participating principals and teachers since 2015 to apply curriculum and instruction that engages students in the real-life aspects of STEM learning.
In 2015, the state awarded CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education nearly $500,000 to advance science education for underrepresented minority students. Project partners include the Los Angeles County Office of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) organizations such as the DIY Girls, Sally Ride Science, Families in Schools and the Discovery Cube Los Angeles.
Along with colleagues Matthew d’Alessio from the College of Science and Mathematics, and Ray Brie and Nathan Durdella from the Eisner College, Belgrad invited five LAUSD elementary schools to participate in their “Achieve through PLCs” project. The CSUN team helped enhance science and engineering curricula and instruction at Victory Boulevard Elementary, Haddon STEAM Academy, Stanley Mosk Elementary, Plummer Elementary and Haskell STEAM Magnet.
A professional learning community (PLC) is a group of educators or administrators who meet regularly to share knowledge and collaborate to improve teaching skills and student academic performance.
To celebrate the culmination of the five-school project in October, Belgrad and CSUN colleagues and the Los Angeles County Office of Education officials invited LA-area educators to a regional conference for K-6 multiple subject teachers.
“The teachers and principals at our conference presented knowledge and strategies learned from our partners, to increase elementary student interest and achievement in STEM-integrated curricula,” Belgrad said.
“They are also addressing key ways to create STEM-focused professional learning communities that include teachers, parents and school leaders,” Belgrad added.
The conference featured an array of workshops, such as “Learning Through Robotics,” as well as hands-on projects such as “Waves,” where attendees had the opportunity to retrofit a wall to withstand an earthquake.
One of the most significant workshops at the conference, Belgrad said, was “How to Lead a STEAM Professional Learning Community.” Administrators at three of the five partner elementary schools shared stories to help attendees understand how to establish and maintain a professional learning community at their school.
Song Lee, vice principal at Haddon STEAM academy in Pacoima, shared her experiences with the project and talked about how the teachers use professional learning at Haddon.
“For us, a professional learning community is not just, ‘let’s get together and talk about a lesson,’” Lee said. “We actually have the lesson and demo for each other so we can get that constructive feedback.”
On Oct. 28, the Discovery Cube LA and CSUN celebrated their partnership by hosting the first of what Belgrad said she hopes will be a growing annual event. The event featured fun activities like a jumper obstacle course, as well as scientific experiments such as pH testing of different drinks. The Discovery Cube LA is located in Sylmar. For more information, please visit the DCLA website.