STEM Education and Crosscutting Concepts

By: Alexis Soffler, Jennifer Rittberg, Eve Margol, Michal Friedman, MollyBeth Rushfield, Nanci Henoch, Hillary Gruber, Andrea Washington, Sharon Barad, Erin Magee, Jessie Nathans
from The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

Interdisciplinary Integration

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Computer Science, Engineering, English/ Writing/ Language Arts, Halacha, History, Ivrit, Math, Mishnah, Music, Philosophy/ Values/ Ethics/ Hashkafa, Science, Social and Emotional Learning, Social Studies, Tanach, Technology, Tefila, literature

Constructivist, Experiential Education, IBL - inquiry based learning, PBL - project based learning, 21st Century Skills

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Elementary school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Elementary school

The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School has developed a model of STEM integration with general and Judaic studies using the Next Generation Science Standard's Crosscutting Concepts (CCC). This model of integration is the only one in the nation and is the subject of research and collaboration with The George Washington University.

Entry Narrative

In order for STEM to be quality learning, meaningful, relevant, and authentic in Jewish learning environments, it must be structured in a way that allows collaboration and exploration without compromising the integrity of different content areas. The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School has developed a full-school model of STEM learning integration. Using this model and with the work of the collaborative cohort of teachers and administrators that has formed to create and support it, it has been implemented in every grade. The model is based on the use of the Crosscutting Concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards. this provides integrity to the STEM program as it is rooted in the ways that professionals in multiple STEM fields understand and structure information. We believe that these 7 Crosscutting Concepts provide insight not only into science and STEM content and processes, but to multiple content areas. For example, “Patterns” exist in science, but also in math, language, social studies and Judaics. By recognizing areas where these Crosscutting Concepts help students understand information in multiple content areas, we help students see that they can serve as thinking strategies. When we can join multiple content areas with the lens of these concepts in larger units or projects, student thinking can be elevated past content and into understanding and problem solving. When confronted with a novel problem, students who employ their understandings of Crosscutting Concept thinking can draw creatively without boundaries, as they facilitate information transfer and innovative solutions.

In the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Lower School, each grade level has taken a single Crosscutting Concept on as a theme for the year. First grade has “Patterns”, second grade has “Structure and Function”, third grade has “Cause and Effect”, fourth grade has “Stability and Change” and fifth grade has “Systems and Models”. This allows students to delve deeply into each concept and experience it in multiple ways. In each content area, teachers and students refer to their Crosscutting Concept frequently as the year’s theme. Each grade level also creates “Kaleidoscope Projects”. These are transdisciplinary projects and challenges that pivot around the Crosscutting Concept and include STEM. For example, as third grade studies “Cause and Effect”, they are posed with a challenge that requires transdisciplinary study- How can we “protect the pitom” of an etrog if we drop it from the roof? This challenge is staged out in multiple classes and students learn about the etrog from a Jewish and biological lens, they discover the significance of the pitom, and they meet engineering and science standards for that grade level. At each part, students are encouraged to contemplate if there are “Cause and Effect” relationships in this problem-based learning. In these examinations and discussions, students connect their understandings beyond content into critical evaluation and organization of information without content boundaries. Here is the project discussed in video, and here are the lesson plans. Other examples of Kaleidoscope Projects and use of Crosscutting Concepts as strategies to understand and organize information include these from first grade and second grade. Kaleidoscope projects are creative, collaborative, and focused on large-scale conceptual understanding while firmly grounded in specific learning goals.

This model is unique, and the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School is the only one to employ such an integration strategy. This innovative and thorough modeling developed at CESJDS inspired a collaboration with The George Washington University. University faculty are currently conducting research on the model and a cohort of teachers are receiving professional development in science content from them as they create and lead other faculty through experiences related to the Crosscutting Concepts. It is this cohort that is applying for the prize.

Products from this cohort have been nothing less than transformative for the entire school community, and likely beyond in the broad field of STEM integration as The George Washington University assists in documenting the unit plans and begins to release research and CESJDS embarks upon sharing the products of the cohort. Thus far, they have created more than 5 Kaleidoscope Projects, and countless lessons and mini-lessons illuminating conceptual ties between content areas. In collaboration with the George Washington University, they have also defined for the field of science education for the first time the learning spectra associated with the Crosscutting Concepts, identifying what beginner to horizon level learners do and understand (this is anticipated to be released in 2020 after the completion of the cohort’s study and the University research).  The intent is that the work created by the cohort will be made available to other educators, both Jewish and secular. The model of using Crosscutting Concepts as a foundation for transdisciplinary learning is replicable, and the learning units and experiences they have created for their students may serve as examples of integration for other Jewish Day Schools. The products of the cohort are of master educators and content administrators. The work in both creating, defining, and enhancing the model and its implementation at CESJDS, stands as the first and only of this kind in the field- not only of Jewish Day schools, but of all American elementary schools.



Entrant Bio(s)

This cohort of teachers and administrators represent multiple grade levels and content areas, from general studies to science to art to Judaics.