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Cheney teachers participate in STEM Institute

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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Students might have seen the plethora of vehicles parked outside of Betz Elementary School last Tuesday and Wednesday, even though summer break had started for Cheney School District the previous Friday.

Many Cheney School District preschool and elementary school teachers attended the district's Literacy Links Summer STEM Institute, June 14-15.

During the two-day workshop, teachers learned many ways they can implement STEM (science, technology, engineering and technology) elements, and concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards into their lessons for next year.

According to the Washington State Office of Public Instruction, the Next Generation Science Standards, which were adopted in 2013, are expectations for what students at each grade level should know in the four domains of science: physical science, life science, earth and space science and engineering, technology and applications of science.

"When the state introduces new standards, there's a feeling among educators that it feels like there's more to do," Kristi Thurston, director of student support services for the district, said. "Part of the workshop is showing teachers how they can think and practice a little differently. It's an approach to embed STEM into things and lessons students experience every day."

Both days of the workshop began with morning group activities where teachers learned ways to infuse the three dimensions of the new science standards — practices, crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas — into their lessons.

After the morning session, teachers would attend two choice sessions. Similar to the morning activities, teachers learned different methods or programs to help integrate STEM with other subjects like literature and English.

Salnave Elementary School teachers, Carly Jackson and Katie Barone, presented sessions on "Building Literacy: One Block at a Time," which showed teachers how they could use Legos, coding and technology for teaching literacy.

"One example is students use Legos Education Story Starter where they can do simple coding and make things move, design story structures to make their own comic books," Barone said.

In "Nurturing a Learning Culture with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), Tonya Leija, pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade literacy teacher on special assignment, showed teachers how they can use art to teach STEM. One example she gave was how she had students create paintings based on plant life they studied.

"It's adding more depth to what we are already doing," Leija said. "It's also using STEM to create a learning culture in the classroom that encourages students to go through multiple drafts to have better quality in their work."

Teachers also learned ways to infuse social and emotional learning and brain-focused practices to help students focus, become self-aware and be open to the perspectives of their classmates. They also met with local organizations and businesses, such as the National Turnbull Wildlife Refuge and Avista, for potential field trip ideas. (Thurston said the district will usually hold these kinds of workshops right after school is over.

"Teachers are still in that mindset (of teaching) in June," Thurston said. "Having a workshop in June, gives staff a chance to get through it and then go right into summer break. They have July and August to think about what they'll implement for next year."

Al Stover can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: June 23, 2016

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