Standard 1.3. Students are empowered to personalize and self-direct their STEM learning experiences supported by STEM educators who facilitate their learning.

Fulton Science Academy Private School students have frequent opportunities to personalize and self-direct many of their STEM experiences as part of their learning. We regularly use CER model (Claim, Evidence Reasoning), Engineering Design Method, and Project-Based Learning to create self-directed learning opportunities for our students.

In conjunction, our elementary teachers frequently use both the engineering design method and the CER model in our classes as an introduction to a unit or concept. Students make a claim about a driving question and/or challenge for the unit and through research and experiments they gather evidence to either support or disprove their claim. Throughout this process the students are really in control of the process, testing different theories to learn whether or not their claim was correct and recording all of their findings along the way until they finally reach a conclusion. As an example, 2nd grade teachers used this strategy when they began the study of gravity.

Also, during elementary classroom STEM challenges, students work as a whole group to develop driving questions (using the engineering design model) based on their given challenge and from there they complete the challenge in their own way. After the initial teacher facilitation, the remainder of the challenges are very student-driven where the teacher only gives support and guidance when needed, but leaves students to create, test their theories, and draw conclusions independently. Each group usually approaches the same challenge in very different manners, which supports the personalization aspect of self-directed learning. 

To facilitate interest and connect our students in a more realistic way to the standards/concepts that they are learning, teachers will often use videos and media reports of actual events to provide context and meaning to instructional lessons. For example, in 3rd grade, after studying pollution and its effects on the environment, students viewed the real-world example of when a tanker and oil barge collided in New Orleans, causing an oil spill, (video: After viewing the video,students used the engineering design process to ask what the problem was and to imagine ways to clean up oil spills or prevent them from happening altogether. Students were then charged with the task of cleaning up an oil spill made from vegetable oil poured into a pan of water.  To support the activity, students were provided with several materials that they could use to accomplish their assignment: pipe cleaners, spoons, pipettes, coffee filters, dawn soap, sponges, paper towels, and cotton balls.  Then, students each created a plan individually of what they would do with the materials provided in the activity.  After forming groups, students then created a collaborative design and plan to clean up the spill, each taking time to listen to their group member’s ideas.  The groups then created their clean-up mechanism and extracted the oil from the water. Next, students reflected on the effectiveness of their tools and thought of ways to improve their model.  Lastly, students were given a price list for each material that they used and determined the total cost of executing their plan to represent how expensive it is to clean up an oil spill.

Other examples of self-directed and personalized STEM learning experiences include:

  • In 6th grade language arts, students work in groups on a multimedia presentation.  They choose a natural disaster of their own choice.  Then they research the warning signs/detection (both scientific and natural) of the disaster and how people can prepare for the disaster, what they can do to survive the onslaught, and how they can recover from it.  Once they have completed their research, they create a presentation to incorporate verbal explanation, video clips, graphics, maps, and sound.
  • In 7th grade language arts, students read Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Their assignment was to work in groups on a WebQuest, for which they choose a prediction related to science or technology found in the novel, which was written in 1869. Topics included scuba gear, submarine technology, use of electric power and lights, and the existence of “giant squids.”  After researching their chosen topics, they created a poster that contains both verbal and visual explanations of the accuracy of Verne’s predictions.  Their posters contained parenthetical citations for the visuals and the written explanations, as well as a Works Cited list.
  • In AP Language/American literature, students choose a film based on an historical event or historical person from American history.  After watching the film, finding a focus, and taking notes about how the event/person is presented in the film, they research historical and other sources to evaluate the accuracy of the film’s portrayal of the event/person.  Their product is a research paper comparing and contrasting the film with history. 
  • In Biology, students have created media using art, animations, and typography, as well as audio/visual elements, to describe and explain various aspects of cell structure and function. Physical science students complete science fair projects in class; additionally they research concepts in physical science and create personalized teaching/learning experiences for their classmates.
  • In math, students are provided personalized study plans using their MAP scores and in-class performances. Based on the skills they need to improve, they are guided to focus on those skills as they continue to learn in class. Khan Academy and Study Island also allow us to provide personalized practice and study plans according to students’ ongoing efforts.  An example of mathematics self-directed learning is the math animation project, where students work on a project for which they are asked to use all 4 types of geometric transformations using an application or software and create a story for their animation.  Students usually use their favorite movie/game characters in their stories and often enjoy creating their projects.

Another way in which we provide opportunities for self-directed and personalized STEM learning experiences is our STEAM Enrichment Program which is offered to students in middle school grades and up. STEAM Enrichment Program students meet four times per week during school hours, so that all students are able to attend. With the guidance of STEAM facilitators, students identify a big idea, issue, or concept that they would like to explore and their essential questions regarding the problem. Then, they are expected to formalize a problem statement and research questions. Using the engineering design model, each group works collaboratively and documents this process in their STEAM binders, as well as, their online portfolio and blog. At the end of each semester, students present their projects (model/prototype, design) using their tri-fold presentation boards and videos at the end of semester STEAM EXPO where all students, parents, and school partnership professional attend. 

We approach the STEAM Enrichment Program a little differently for younger students to account for a different level of maturity and emerging skills. Students in elementary grades work together on either a class or grade level STEAM project based on their interests. Last year, our students in these grades worked on the following STEAM projects:

  • Pre-K: Back to the Roots Water Garden Fish Tank
  • Kindergarten: Sanders – Worm Farm, Irshadullah – Bird Houses
  • 1st Grade: Growing and caring for potted plans
  • 2nd Grade: Butterfly life cycle and butterfly garden blue prints
  • 3rd grade: Market day – Create your own business: budgeting, economics, design process, product (prototype) and art!

Clubs offer another STEM enrichment avenue for FSAPS students to explore their talents and interests. Students have a variety of STEAM related after-school clubs to choose from such as, Nature Conservation, Hands-On Science, Programming, Arduino (an open-source platform used for building electronics projects), MathGeniuses, Scratch, Broadcasting, and so on. By providing a multitude of club options, our students are allowed the opportunity to receive more focused study in their individualized areas of interest.

STEM related academic teams are another big part of life at Fulton Science Academy Private School and a very effective reinforcement tool of classroom knowledge and concepts. The vast majority of our students participate on at least one academic team. We are very proud that our academic teams represented Georgia in seven different national and international academic competitions this past year and are well on our way to meeting or surpassing that incredible feat this year. Annually, at the beginning of the school year, we present each of our academic teams to our students and allow them the opportunity to choose an academic team based on their individual interests. Students meet during club times, after school, Friday nights and on Saturday mornings to study for their academic teams. Coaches organize lock-ins and cabin camps for students to create fun extended study times as a team and further develop team cohesiveness. To outside parties, a Saturday at FSAPS often closely resembles a regularly scheduled school day, since there are so many students, team coaches, and parents at the school engaged in academic activities.  As part of our academic teams program, we offer Science Olympiad, Math Olympiad, Future City, Technology Fair, Media Festival, Destination Imagination, Model United Nations, Robotics FLL, Robotics FRC, History Quiz Bowl, and Academic Quiz Bowl. The variety of options provides our students with the opportunity to participate in a team most suited to their personal interests and to have a more personalized experience. During these studies, students self-direct their work as many academic teams require coaches to take the role of a facilitator only.

As part of student’s coursework, they complete many class activities and both short-term and long-term projects, as well. Additionally, we have school-wide projects, competitions, and outside activities to enhance students’ STEM experiences. Some examples are as follows:

  • School-wide Science Fair
  • STEAM Video Contest
  • School-wide Maker Faire
  • Georgia Water Tower Competition
  • MathGeniuses
  • ScienceGeniuses
  • Destination Imagination Instant Challenges
  • Local STEM Field Trips

Our students also attend and participate in many activities and competitions organized and hosted by other schools and organizations such as the Atlanta Science Festival, Atlanta Maker Faire, various local Math competitions, and so on. We give extra credit in science classes for any student attending the Atlanta Maker Faire and the Atlanta Science Festival. All these STEM related opportunities allow our students to further personalize their STEM experiences, as well.

Lastly, our school offers and/or hosts many STEAM camps to assist students throughout our community with personalizing their summer STEAM experiences and furthering their knowledge in an enjoyable manner over extended vacation periods. These summer camps include:

  • STEAM Camp – Two Weeks
  • Weekly Robotics Camp
  • Math Olympiad Camp
  • Wealthy Habits Finance Camp – Two Weeks
  • Weekly Kids 4 Coding Camp
  • BioIgnite STEM Camp – Two Weeks
  • Chess Camp – One Week

Collectively, these programs, instructional approaches, extra-curricular activities, and enrichment opportunities consistently empower our students to personalize and self-direct their own STEM learning experiences through the facilitation, guidance, and support of our faculty, staff, and volunteers.