Grantee Spotlight: Maricopa County Education Service Agency

What is your i3 project trying to achieve, and what are the major pieces of the project?

The Engineering STEM Identity (ESI) i3 project aims to develop future science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals by inspiring middle school students to envision themselves as STEM professionals and supporting teachers to more effectively teach STEM disciplines. Most students decide if they are interested in a STEM career during middle school, and too many choose not to pursue STEM because they cannot perceive themselves in a STEM role. This perception of themselves is known as STEM identity and has been shown to predict student persistence in STEM fields.  MCESA’s i3 Engineering STEM Identity (ESI) program uses a theoretical framework of researched factors (role models, gender norms, curricular relevance, self-efficacy, institutional belonging, and academic success) that contribute to middle school students’ STEM identity.  Each activity of the grant deliberately fosters one or more identity factors thereby promoting persistence and helping students envision themselves one day, as a STEM professional. The ESI activity of STEM Pro Spotlights, utilizes videoconferencing technology to engage STEM Professionals with students to discuss their life and career journeys from middle school to present. STEM Professionals also consult with students and peer classrooms throughout the year, to provide content expertise and guidance on school or community challenge projects, using an engineering design process called Challenge Cohorts. Additionally, through Peer Panels, classes discuss science academic challenges and collaboratively propose solutions to those challenges with other classes through video conferencing. Finally, students participate in Modeling Instruction to promote authentic science inquiry and improve fluency of science academic language.


What are some of the best practices or most successful strategies that have led to success in your program to date?

One of the most successful strategies of ESI is the utilization of interactive videoconferencing technology with STEM Professionals and classrooms. Because ESI schools are located in distant and disadvantaged urban locations within Maricopa County, STEM Professionals would not have had the time and/or resources to provide meaningful engagement, without the use of videoconferencing. ESI STEM Pros are trained either at their companies or via videoconference, and then they are matched with classrooms. Videoconference removes the barriers of access to role models for our rural and/or disadvantaged schools. “We are introducing a whole new domain of STEM careers and occupation possibilities to our ESI students, through videoconference and working with STEM Professionals and companies.” Another significant practice are teachers learning from each other, facilitated by MCESA ESI STEM coaches via videoconference. Teachers and students have promoted reflective practice and dialogue as well as a classroom environment shift to increasingly more engagement. With support from our ESI STEM coaches, teachers are sharing more and feel less isolated in their classrooms. Teachers and students learn via videoconference from other ESI cohort classrooms, the processes used to implement their Challenge projects. Consequently, after learning about projects from other schools, classes are inspired to try and test new challenge projects.For example, one ESI school developed a sustainable garden, and now two years later, the school is teaching another school, through video conference Challenge Cohort meetings, how to develop a sustainable garden. In addition to STEM Professionals, the student “experts” are passing on their experiential learning of obstacles, successes, and refinements.“It is amazing to see students teaching real-life knowledge and skills to other students across distant locations, through videoconference, with the support of a STEM Professional!”

In addition to the use of interactive video technology as a best practice, ESI has made a deliberate connection to relevant content knowledge and process skills to improve academics. ESI STEM coaches, with support from STEM Professionals, have guided teachers in teaching relevant - rigorous content, through discussions with teachers, regarding how to infuse academic vocabulary and intentionally teach scientific inquiry and communication process skills. The end result is a statistical significance increase in science learning as measured by student pre-post science assessment scores.



What challenges have you faced and what lessons have you learned for ensuring programmatic success?

The recruitment, refinement and matching of STEM Professionals has been challenging but achievable.    ESI has trained over 450 STEM Professionals, and many of these valuable volunteers have come from companies with a strong commitment to partner with MCESA on ESI. MCESA has worked to overcome security barriers so that professionals can engage with students and teachers from their workplace. Because a large amount of STEM companies have high-levels of computer securities, ESI uses a cloud-based videoconference technology that does not require a program to download and allows easy access for STEM companies to videoconference.  Because STEM professionals can work from their offices and avoid time consuming travel to and from schools, they are more likely to repeatedly volunteer.  Teachers also face time barriers. They must invest significant planning time to develop and implement Project-based Learning (PBL). PBL with rigor provides the environment to apply learning with deeper knowledge and transfer that knowledge to a new situation. MCESA continues to refine the PBL training and scaffold both the difficulty level and planning time commitment for teachers by providing them ready to go model PBL units and gradually developing teacher independence to create their own.  Additionally, PBL implementation is supported in the classroom over a sustained period of time through teacher coaching to optimally change the STEM learning environment.


How is your program supporting STEM education?

The Engineering STEM Identity (ESI) Project goals are to develop the STEM identity of students, increase student persistence in STEM and their likelihood to choose STEM careers, increase science and math achievement and increase teacher content- pedagogy and confidence in teaching STEM. Active learning environments support and increase student STEM academic success. Using the Engineering Design Process, students are learning in an environment that mirrors the workforce and follows a model-based classroom process of applied learning. Students engage in meaningful discourse integrating oral and written academic vocabulary and communication skills with science content.  STEM education is supported while simultaneously advancing student self-efficacy in performing tasks, authentic inquiry, respectful collaboration, and ownership for solving school or community challenges. Watch the video clip Challenge Cohort example of ESI rural students using the Engineering Design Process to solve the school challenge of no potable water. MCESA is developing a prototypical model for science and other STEM classrooms that can be utilized throughout Arizona and the U.S. We are supporting the pipeline of students wanting to pursue rigorous high school and post-secondary STEM education and careers beyond the pivotal middle school years.  In addition, we have generated a model for business and STEM education partnerships that overcomes the barriers faced by both business professionals and classroom teachers.