Innovative Educational Solutions Institute is a 501C(3) nonprofit organization. Our purpose is to provide educational services related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The students we have worked with come from at-risk and culturally-diverse backgrounds. Many have been low achievers and/or lacked basic foundational skills (e.g. math, reading ect.). For some “English” was their second language. Also STEM activities or jobs are not a part of their cultural backgrounds. The challenge was how to structure the lessons taught to address these situations.
We believe learning is an inner process, not an outer process. In addition, we believe people learn in different ways including learning by doing. So all our courses were implemented using multiple Intelligence approach and were project based.
To facilitate the Multiple Intelligence (MI) aspect of the courses we do the following things:
- Simplify instructions – by using demonstrations, diagrams, movies, pictorial illustrations and simplified directions. For example in our LEGO robotics project the assembly direction are pictorial illustrate instead of written directions.
- Give the students task vocabulary words to learn. Have them to look up the definitions either in a dictionary and/or online (e.g. google). Have them write the definitions and give periodic quizzes on the definitions.
- Show students how Math and science principle apply. Show them how to use the principles to analyze and measure activities/tasks results.
- Have students give presentations on project activities and tasks. They should explain the purpose of the activity/task and what they learned.
- Write synopses of project activities/tasks.
- Show students how to set up a portfolio of activity/tasks documentation.
- Show students how to do a project evaluation rubric.
Finally, we assessed the performance of students using course competencies.
A competency determines a student’s success based on completing a project task. A standard may state that a student is proficient when they complete some task. But, a competency focuses on the outcome of learning activity/tasks which can be easily measured.
It focuses on what a learner is expected to do.
It emphasizes skills and evaluates mastery of these skills according to actual learner performance.
It provides learners with immediate feedback so they can know if they meet performance standards.
It provides “context for content standards”.
Most importantly, the traditional “standardized testing” only assesses a “cognitive understanding” of a subject matter. But, Competencies gives an assessment of the cognitive understanding along with the functional application of the subject matter. In other words, the ability to understand the subject matter and to apply that knowledge.
IESI has taught STEM courses at various schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools and one a private choice school. The courses were certified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) so students receive course credit for their diplomas. The Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) also certified the courses for transfer credit.