Texas Teachers Create 9 STEM News Lessons That Engage with Students’ Communities

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

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Stem Lesson Plans focusing on Climate Change, Mental Health and Education

Close to 150 educators from across Texas gathered virtually for the University of Texas A&M’s K-12 Summer Institute this week. During PBS NewsHour Extra’s workshop on “How Digital Storytelling Fosters STEM Engagement,” teachers took over the reins from the NewsHour EXTRA staff to write their own Daily News Stories (“DNSs”).

These lessons were based on NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs latest series “2020 In Focus: Climate Change, Education & Mental Health.” Taken together, these stories are a great way to inspire your students to discover, analyze and debate the ways developing science, policy and culture touch their own communities.  

 

STEM Lesson Plans: Hydroponics Food Program Helping A School Cafeteria

Students in a Principles of Agriculture class at John Hardin High School in Radcliffe, Kentucky have taken on the issue of food insecurity as a global—and local—problem. Students from the class learned that food insecurity is an increasing problem globally, and that food production in the United States may not be enough to feed the country’s population by 2050. After also learning that nearly one in five students in their own school was food insecure, the students decided to use hydroponics to grow food to help supply the own school.

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: How can hydroponics help address growing food insecurity?
  2. How could this program be expanded to produce more food and help more people?
  3. What challenges did the students face as they implemented their project?
    • What do you think they could have or might have done to solve the problems?
    • How could facing these difficulties have helped them to improve?
  4. Media literacy: Do you know what problems with food insecurity might be common in your own community or nearby? How would you find out?

Lesson by teachers Carolyn Boyd, Beaumont, TX; Carolyn Stewart, Killeen, TX; Sandy Martinez, Kerrville, TX; and Moreena Bird, Cypress, TX

 

STEM Lesson Plans: School Therapy Dog Destresses High Schoolers 

Mary Ann Noel, a psychology teacher at Caesar Rodney High School, has implemented a new school therapy method that has brought a trained dog into the school in order to help high schoolers work on their socio-emotional skills and decrease anxiety levels. The therapy has made a positive impact on student welfare allowing students to regulate their emotional responses to school stress or even change their mood responses by offering comfort or companionship.

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: Would your school welcome a therapy animal? Why or why not?
  2. Do you feel that a trained therapy animal could help you destress, especially when coming back to school after COVID-19?
  3. What traits do dogs have that make them effective in providing emotional support? What skills do support dogs need for doing their job (what do trainers teach them)?
  4. What are some concerns with implementing dog therapy in schools? How could these concerns be alleviated?
  5. Media literacy: Look up stories of support animals in other contexts outside of schools. Are support animals treated seriously as a possible aid or solution in that story? Why or why not?

Lesson by teachers Angela Turner Hallsville, TX; Coleen Napier Streety, Crane, TX; Deborah O’Sullivan; and Lara, Edinburg, TX

 

STEM Lesson Plans: How Effective Is Tech in the Classroom?

Technology is implemented in schools so that students can learn on a global scale to gain a broader perspective of the world. 

  • There are many advantages to having one to one technology access for students, including less strain from carrying around books and notebooks, knowledge at your fingertips, saving paper, collaborative learning and more.
  • Disadvantages of this access to technology include potential distractions from learning. 

 

Teachers meeting to create STEM lesson plans over Zoom

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: What technology do you think would help improve your own learning experience?
  2. Did you see any technology in the video that is not currently being used in your own classroom? Why would it help?
  3. Does collaborative learning become easier for you when you interact digitally or face to face? Why?
  4. Media literacy: What view points were present in the video? What view points or information was missing from the video that you would have liked to have been included? 

Lesson by teachers Melissa Alicea, Houston, TX; Celeste Cole, Houston, TX; Soma Ghosh, Houston, TX; James Horner, Cypress, TX; and Erika Miles, Katy, TX

 

STEM Lesson Plans: Planting A Better Future

The Tree Folks is an organization that helps reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by encouraging tree growth and awareness. The program nurtures the connection between the community and trees through tree walks, tree adoption and planting new trees. The program is designed to improve air quality and encourage the community to become better stuarts to protect the planet.

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: What benefits might an organization like Tree Folks bring to your own community? 
  2. What are some of the community resources you might explore that would support trees in your area? What might your community be doing for Arbor Day on April 30, 2021?
  3. What are some safety considerations for this project? Consider both your specific environment and the participants’ safety.
  4. Media literacy: Research any local news on Arbor Day in your community. How is it celebrated? Do you think the local media should cover environmental issues more in your community?

Lesson by teachers Cory Turner, Sandra Geisbush, Maria Ungaro and Paula Opp

 

STEM Lesson Plans: This School Runs on Renewable Resources and Clean Energy

Richardsonville Elementary took a green approach to building and operating their school. Due to the design and construction of the building, the energy consumed equates to 75% less than traditional school building. They use a combination of renewable energies to operate the school.

The funding that is recovered by using renewable energy allows them to put money, roughly $30,000, back into student achievement. Due to the unique nature of the campus design, they are able to effectively promote energy conservation and teach their students the significance of renewable energy and conservation science. 

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: What are the pros and cons of constructing a green school like the one mentioned in this story?
  2. If you were a community member/parent/student within this district, where would you like to see the money generated allocated? 
  3. Suppose you were asked to design a way to improve energy conservation on your campus. What ideas would you propose and how would they be effective?
  4. What is the difference in cost to build a Net Zero school? Is it more or less expensive? How long would it take to recover that additional cost with a projected savings of $30,000 per year?
  5. Media literacy: How can you find out about budgets for construction in your own school district? Are any funds being put toward greater energy efficiency?

Lesson by teachers Jennifer Alfaro, Weslaco, TX; Deborah Turner, Houston, TX; Karen Jacobs, Houston, TX; and Emily Prochnow, Seguin, TX

 

STEM Lesson Plans: Different Cultural Backgrounds Weigh in on Mental Health Issues

Students may come from different cultures that approach mental health well-being and the stigma of mental illness differently. In this video, students describe learning to navigate both their own cultural assumptions and their mental health needs. 

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: What are some ways that different cultures view mental health and mental illness similarly or differently?
  2. What are some views you encountered towards mental illness based from different religious backgrounds?
  3. Do you think listening to different cultural perspectives on mental health can help us better articulate mental wellness? In what ways?
  4. Media literacy: Find news reports that mention mental illness, including depression or addiction. Does the language in the news report stigmatize the mental illness? Do you think such a stigma might make it less likely for people to seek help for their own mental illness?

Lesson by teachers Megan Tapia, Cypress, TX; Jenny Ellis, Pflugerville, TX; Claudia Graciano, Cypress, TX; and Sally Hunt, Cypress, TX

 

STEM Lesson Plans: Why Do We Turn to Humor in Times of Crisis?

Students are filtering global and national crisis from coronavirus to world conflicts through satire and humor on social media sites such as TikTok, Snapchat and Twitter. Students explain that humor and satire can be ways to alleviate stress and anxiety in confusing and trying times.

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: How do you cope when feeling overwhelmed by the news?
  2. At what age do you remember first becoming aware of national or global crisis?
  3. Does humor really help resolve understanding of the issue being discussed?
  4. Do you think different generations such as Generation X and Baby Boomers have different senses of humor about the world and news? How about your generation? 
  5. Media literacy: how much of the news of the world do you get through traditional media such as print journalism, television news or straight news sites and how much do you get through funny or satirical sources?

Lesson by teachers Sherry Caesar, Houston, TX; Nana Asabere, Houston, TX; Michael Arratia, Houston, TX; DeAndre Bell, Houston, TX; and Orlando Trevino, Mercedes, TX

 

STEM Lesson Plans: How Video Games Affect Mental Health 

Video games were created over 40 years ago and have turned into an E Sport phenomenon. The sports that are based on video games draw crowds larger than some traditional sports.

  • Many high school and college age students are involved with E sports. 
  • There is debate about how these games may affect violence in society. 
  • It is recommended that gamers be alert to the amount of time they are spending on these games and be sure it is not taking too much time out of their daily activities.

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: Do you believe video games are a positive or negative influence on mental health? 
  2. According to the video, what is the correlation between video games and mental health?
  3. How do you think people filled their time before video games? What life experiences do you think kids are missing out on when they play video games? What might they be gaining by having access to video games?
  4. Media literacy: Come up with a different title for this video that would fit your viewpoint on video games and mental health. Explain your reasoning.

Extension Questions

  1. Who provided data for comparison between violent and nonviolent actions for those playing video games? 
  2. How can the data be substantiated? (cite 2 sources for each opinion)

Lesson by teachers Donna Womack, Magan Cavalier, Barbara Beltran and Laura Nelson

 

STEM Lesson Plans: Feeling Included with Best Buddies 

Wauwatosa High School has a program called “Best Buddies” that focuses on including students who may or may not have IDD (Intellectual Development Disorder). It helps teach children who have not dealt with peers who have special needs and gives students a sense of leadership and purpose. 

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: How would being a part of a program like IDD help you see people with a different point of view?
  2. Due to the current situation with COVID-19, explain how you would make a group like IDD work out of the classroom due to distance learning?
  3. How could ta program like IDD be used as a model for other clubs and organizations that will help students understand other life experiences and points of view?
  4. Media literacy: How can you find state or local non-profits that might help you start your own clubs or organizations at school? 

Extension Activity: Would you be willing to start a group like this in your school, test it out, and report back on the success of your group? What would you call the group and how would you recruit students to join?

Lesson by teachers Carolina Christopher, Houston, TX; Ryan Bennett, Houston, TX; Kris Freeman, Cypress, TX; and Maureen Clifford, San Antonio, TX

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