Updated: Apr 6, 2021
PEF's STEM Fellows has had a long-lasting impression on many teachers, but not just in Hamilton County, TN. Since its inception, STEM Fellows has included dozens standout teachers from from school districts throughout Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. LeAnn Moore, STEM teacher at Loudon Elementary School, participated in the most recent STEM Fellows 7.0 cohort. Moore, who is in her 26th year teaching at Loudon Elementary, began her first year as a STEM teacher in 2018. The problem-based learning (PBL) units, which Moore developed in the first phase of the STEM Fellowship, played an influential role in her teaching and how she designed experiences for her students.
Moore uses the same PBL format for each unit she creates for her students. All of the format's pieces originate from the day her STEM Fellows cohort participated in a PBL unit planning PD, led by PEF’s Michael Stone and Cliff Brittingham. The cohort constructed their own PBL unit from templates they were given, and Moore soon realized how vital the content would be to her teaching strategy. Moore combined multiple templates in a way that made the most sense to her style. “The PBL PD was my favorite class,” shared Moore. “We learned about all the important pieces a PBL unit needed to have, including technology and range of thinking.” The content correlated with her team rubric and helped her to organize her thoughts. Moore applauds STEM Fellows for the support she needed in creating a PBL unit. “This is the first year our school has had a STEM class, so I had to start from scratch,” said Moore. “When I met with our school’s principal, Christie Amburn, to show her the PBL plan I prepared for my students, she was very impressed and told me that ‘this is everything a PBL unit should have’." Principal Amburn also ordered STEAM design challenge materials, which Moore incorporated with her PBL unit to cover subject standards. These standards also helped correspond with fellow teachers’ curriculum in her school.
In addition to the curriculum content Moore started to build from the STEAM design challenge materials, she reviewed examples in the book and created her own spin on the content standards. She relates the content to topics students are familiar with or have knowledge of (i.e. Amusement parks, such as Dollywood) and ensures it covers state standards in math, science, reading, technology, and engineering. From there, she is able to start creating her PBL template.
Moore’s classroom utilizes ‘IXL’, an immersive K-12 learning format, which includes standard based programs for language arts, science, and math. The teachers have their state standards or learning targets of what students need to learn, as well as proficiency level requirements, including ‘Proficient’ and ‘Advanced’. Depending on what grade students make, Moore says they have the opportunity to keep working on their project until they make the grade they want--emphasizing that time should not be a barrier to content mastery. Most of the time, they have a ten-day period to do so, but sometimes the time frame can be longer. Moore's goal is that her students retain the knowledge and are motivated to learn and reach toward their full potential. “The students like to be advanced,” shared Moore, “and always aim to earn 100%.”
Moore’s PBL unit, Rockin’ Roller Coasters, incorporates design elements for the drop, curve, and loop of a roller coaster. Integrating all elements of STEM was fun for students and helped them engage in authentic learning concepts. Learning about angles was also a class favorite. Students had to draw a geometric city and adhere to building code standards. When it was announced that there would be a new bridge built at Loudon Municipal Park, Moore even invited speakers from Loudon City Council to help provide a real-world perspective of STEM principles to her students, such as bridge building and bridge design. She also invited full-time engineers to the classroom to relate coding to real-world problem-solving.
During the classroom observations Moore had this past year, she felt confident in the PBL units she created, which she says is all thanks to what she learned through PEF's STEM Fellows. “That PD experience helped me organize my thoughts, plan relevant lessons, and make sure I covered everything the students needed in order to be successful,” shared Moore. “I have really enjoyed STEM Fellows this year, because it gave me direction. I could never go back to the routine teaching of how I taught in the past. I see how my students have the ability to become risk-takers now." Moore's students have begun to realize that a project's outcome does not have to be perfect the first time--or ever. "If their project doesn’t turn out exactly the way they want it, it’s really eye-opening to see them process an entirely different way of thinking. They keep trying, thinking, and creating,” shared Moore.
The cohort also participated in a PD session at Volkswagen Chattanooga, where they learned to construct robots through LEGO Mindstorms. “I didn’t know anything about robotics, but STEM Fellows made me more of a risk-taker and made me step outside my comfort zone," shared Moore. Through the program, she has embraced the fact that she does not have to be an expert on everything at first. After the PD at VW, Moore incorporated robotics learning into her classroom, working with code.org lessons where students can learn to write code. “The thinking process is what is so important. My students have the opportunity to think outside the box and are able to persevere, which is how it should always be.” Moore looks forward to continue to utilize and construct PBL units to shape her students’ learning in the future, no matter what subjects she teaches. “The subjects within STEM are so important to students’ learning," said Moore. "These kids are excited to learn more than ever, and it’s relevant to real-world concepts and challenges."
Thanks to LeAnn for sharing with the us how STEM Fellows has shaped the way she teaches, especially with PBL strategies. Stay tuned to hear more impact stories from STEM Fellows in the future!
Are you or someone you know interested in applying for STEM Fellows 8.0? Now is your chance! Candidates have until May 31st to apply here. And don't forget to stop by our annual STEM Fellows celebration at Unum on May 30th! More details + registration can be found on our Eventbrite.
*Additional photos from Moore's Loudon Elementary classroom:
*Contributed photos: LeAnn Moore.