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  • North Carolina School Uses Museum Curriculum in STEM Turnaround

North Carolina School Uses Museum Curriculum in STEM Turnaround

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Raleigh, North Carolina, elementary school that was once one of the district's lowest performing schools has become a model for elementary schools statewide by making engineering its focus. Engineering is Elementary® (EiE®), a curriculum developed by the Museum of Science, Boston's National Center for Technological Literacy®, played a key role in the transformation.

The school, formerly known as Brentwood Elementary, is located near Research Triangle Park, home to major technology companies. Three out of four of the school's 500 students come from economically disadvantaged homes, and 40 percent speak English as a second language. Seven years ago, students were scoring only 20 - 30 percent proficient on standardized tests.

In 2008, when the district reinvented Brentwood as the Brentwood Magnet Elementary School of Engineering, the school day was reorganized to make STEM a priority, and the EiE curriculum was implemented in every grade.

Emily Hardee, the school's STEM coordinator, chose certain EiE activities "because they connect with real-world events." For example, she linked an EiE unit which asked students to create their own strategies to clean up an oil spill on a model estuary with a state legislature vote on offshore drilling. "We liked that EiE was research based, designed to support learning for students of all backgrounds and abilities, and proven effective," Hardee says. "It also helped that the materials came in kits, since some teachers were uncomfortable with the idea of teaching engineering to elementary students."

Since then, Brentwood has seen steady gains in test scores and met state goals for expected growth the past four years. In a recent survey, fifth-graders communicated a 13 percent greater understanding of engineering and its beneficial impacts than other students in the district; 78 percent expressed an interest in engineering careers, compared to 62 percent in other district STEM elementary schools.

This past spring, Magnet Schools of America recognized Brentwood for educational excellence with a Waldrip Award, the organization's second-highest honor. Says Hardee, "We owe part of our success to the relationship we have with EiE."