School Committee Investigates STEM Learning

Rochester Memorial School has big plans to incorporate more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teaching into its curriculum.

Longtime RMS teacher Karen DellaCioppa was on hand on November 17 to explain to the Rochester School Committee these goals and how they have been incorporated. She has recently stepped into a new role that functions as a STEM specialist to help teachers incorporate STEM into everyday lessons.

“When it was first presented, I didn’t really know what STEM involved,” DellaCioppa said. “It’s important to involve science as the classroom teacher. Technology advancement is moving at a rapid pace.” She continued, “By 2020, our knowledge will double every seventeen days. Teachers today are preparing children for jobs which aren’t created yet, and technology which isn’t yet invented. We need to prepare for that.”

She indicated that the school had begun to incorporate STEM assignments in the upper grades. Grade 4 designed their own portable greenhouses, which needed to be able to keep a plant alive without water for ten days. They also created an artificial beak for an injured bird that couldn’t eat.

Sixth-graders learned to make their own clay by figuring out the ratios of all the ingredients to the others. Then they needed to use that clay to create a rocket, which would hold an astronaut.

“We found it to be a good combination of math and engineering,” DellaCioppa said.

Also during the meeting, RMS Principal Derek Medeiros gave an overview of the school’s PARCC and MCAS results. Rochester Memorial is currently a Level 2 school, which means it ranks in the 79th percentile within the state; the minimum for a Level 1 school is the 80th percentile, and Medeiros was hopeful that the school would soon pass that mark.

While Rochester has moved to PARCC for English and Math testing, it still uses MCAS for Science, and Medeiros discussed those results first.

RMS fifth-graders scored higher than the state average in the ‘advanced’ and ‘proficient’ categories, with 11% of fifth graders testing ‘advanced’ and 45% scoring ‘proficient’. Thirty-three percent of fifth-graders leveled at ‘needs improvement’ and a further 11% were graded as ‘warning/failing’.

“When did we last have a one hundred percent dedicated science teacher, not just a teacher teaching science for an hour?” asked School Committee member Jennifer Kulak.

“Well, I came in in 2013, and that position was already gone,” Medeiros said.

Kulak pointed out, “In 2012, twenty-seven percent of students scored ‘advanced’ and it’s getting uglier every year.”

“We see the need,” Medeiros explained, “which is why we have this new position that Karen has taken over. Technology has advanced so quickly that teachers are still trying to find a balance between traditional science standards and the newer things. This isn’t really a true indicator of what the kids are learning.”

Medeiros pointed out a ‘Science Action Plan,’ which included developing a new science curriculum, implementing engineering challenges for students, creating more opportunities to use technology in the classroom, and bringing sample MCAS questions to students in lower grades.

In the new PARCC English Language & Literature test, there are five levels: Level 5 ‘exceeded expectations’; Level 4 ‘met expectations’; Level 3 ‘approached expectations’; Level 2 ‘partially met expectations’; and Level 1 ‘did not yet meet expectations’.

In Grade 3, no students achieved Level 5 and 41% tested at Level 4. In Grade 4, of the 58 students tested, 29% achieved Level 5 and 50% scored Level 4. Grade 5 found 2% of students at Level 5 and 63% at Level 4. Grade 6 scored 16% of students at Level 5 and 61% at Level 4.

“We’re a little distraught at the low numbers at Level 5,” Kulak pointed out again.

Medeiros replied, “The focus for us this year is to keep Flextime going, so that students who need a little extra reading help can get it. There will be more high-level reading projects; we want to bring all the kids up.”

The PARCC math exam requires an average of 750 points per grade to certify proficiency, which every grade met except Grade 3 (which sits at 749). In Grades 4, 5, and 6, 93%, 94% and 95% of students scored between Levels 3-5 respectively. Grade 3 found 10% of students at Level 5 and 41% at Level 4. In Grade 4, 12% tested at Level 5 and 57% at Level 4. Grade 5 found 6% of students at Level 5 and 63% at Level 4. Eight percent of Grade 6 students tested at Level 5 and 60% at Level 4.

RMS Cafeteria staff members Doreen Gonet and Jane LaRue were also on hand on behalf of the entire cafeteria staff to receive recognition from Tina Rood.

“We started a new breakfast program this year,” she said, “and their willingness to try out something new was wonderful. Thank you for caring for our kids.”

Medeiros added, “These guys go above and beyond. Thank you for taking on the breakfast program.”

The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee is scheduled for January 5 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

By Andrea Ray


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