Kate Authier is passionate about STEAM education. When she was hired as the principal of Wilemon STEAM Academy in February 2018, she already knew she wanted to get STEM certified.
“I don’t view STEAM as science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. STEAM is about how we solve problems. It’s about real world skills,” she said. “Everything I read about the National Institute for STEM Education (NISE) aligned with what I thought about STEAM and what STEAM education should look like.”
At the same time, Waxahachie ISD leaders were researching STEM certification programs for teachers at Wilemon and other interested schools. “We decided to pursue STEM certification through NISE as a district,” said Authier. “We felt it would be a good way to help everyone develop the same understanding of STEM, regardless of their backgrounds.”
Wilemon STEAM Academy opened its doors to students in the fall of 2018. During that first year, Wilemon’s principal, assistant principal, librarian, and all K-5 teachers completed the National Certificate for STEM Teaching (NCST). In the spring of 2019, Wilemon STEAM Academy became the first in the district to earn the National Certificate for STEM Excellence (NCSE)–Campus Certificate.
“We were all learning at the same time,” said Authier. “It helped me see how to support our teachers, and it brought us all closer together.”
Wilemon STEAM Academy is a lottery elementary school that attracts students from across the district — and it is a place teachers want to be as well. “Since that first year, any teacher who joins our school gets STEM certified,” said Authier. “We don’t have a lot of turnover on our campus. It’s been just a handful of people in five years.”
“We love our jobs here because of what we learned through NISE,” said Lace Trout, a fourth grade teacher who has been with Wilemon since it opened. “It’s a different way of teaching — and I wouldn’t go back for one second. I've been teaching for 16 years and these last five years have been the most fun and rewarding years I’ve ever had. My students love to learn.”
“This is only my second year at Wilemon, and I taught for 13 years before that,” said Amy Nutt, a second grade teacher who joined Wilemon in 2021 and completed the NCST during the 2021-22 school year. “After coming here from schools with more traditional learning environments, one of the biggest differences I see is in the excitement of the kids. They are smiling when they walk in the door every day. They genuinely want to be here because they’re so involved in their learning.”
According to Authier, the NISE certification programs align with Wilemon’s goals to create an innovative learning environment where students use critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration — the 4 Cs — to solve real-world problems and promote career awareness.
“Our students don’t see the STEAM subjects in isolation, which is what we want because that’s how the world is,” she said. “They see the connections and how what they’re doing relates to the world around them.”
According to Wilemon teachers, their participation in the NCST program was “eye-opening” in a variety of ways.
When Trout first heard about the NCST, she worried it would be something “extra.” “I thought it would be tons of work, but in reality, my workload feels like it’s less because I’ve learned to become a facilitator. The kids are the ones exploring and solving problems, and I’m there to guide them. It’s more student-centered and it’s easier,” she said. “The NISE certification also changed my mindset about STEAM. Before, I thought STEAM was just about building. But STEAM isn’t about cardboard and hot glue guns. It’s about problem solving, the 4 Cs, and so much more.”
In addition to STEM certification, Wilemon’s curriculum has played a role in its success, according to school leaders and teachers. The academy has used STEMscopes Science since 2018, and it added STEMscopes Math in 2020.
Built from the ground up to state standards, STEMscopes combines a comprehensive digital curriculum, supplemental print materials, and ready-made exploration kits. It also includes embedded support for teachers, such as lesson plans, videos, on-demand webinars, and how-to guides.
“With STEMscopes, it’s very easy to plan lessons,” said Nutt. “No matter which lesson I pick, my students enjoy it. It’s very engaging.”
“STEMscopes saves me time. There are so many resources that are ready to go. We have a first year teacher on our team and the videos have helped her so much,” said Trout. “STEMscopes is user friendly for the kiddos as well. It even has a text-to-speech function for students who need that accommodation, so it makes it even easier to use.”
Each STEMscopes unit or “scope” is developed around the 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) model of instruction, with additional phases for Intervention and Acceleration.
“When I go into the Explore section, we always do the Assessing Prior Knowledge activity,” said Nutt. “It helps me understand where my students are. I love that it refers back to the first grade TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and what they should already know. Then I know if I’m ready to hit the ground running or if I have to back up a bit. It also helps with my small group instruction.”
“The Explores are amazing,” said Trout. “The first lesson we did in STEMscopes Math was on long division, which is usually hard for students. But I followed the lesson step by step, and when the kids were done, they said, ‘That was so easy!’ The Explores build students’ confidence so by the time we’re ready to go into the other parts of the lesson, they feel ready.”
“This year STAAR is going to constructed responses, and we struggled with how to fit that in, but then we realized we already have that in the Reflect activities in STEMscopes,” said Nutt.
“That’s been a huge help,” added Trout. “Looking back at students’ constructed responses throughout the year, it’s now second nature to them.”
|Year||Did Not Meet||Approaches||Meets||Masters|
|Year||Did Not Meet||Approaches||Meets||Masters|
In addition, Wilemon students are showing growth from one grade level to the next on the STAAR.
|Did Not Meet||Approaches||Meets||Masters|
|Grade 3 - 2021||15%||85%||52%||22%|
|Grade 4 - 2022||14%||86%||53%||27%|
|Grade 4 - 2021||14%||86%||61%||38%|
|Grade 5 - 2022||9%||91%||63%||33%|
“Their learning sticks with them,” said Nutt. “It’s cool to see my former students come back and say, ‘Remember when we made this when we learned about producers and consumers?’ or ‘Remember when we did this when we learned about measurement?’”
“Looking at where we were our first year and where we are now, it’s night and day,” said Trout. “We think differently. Our kids think differently. My advice to other teachers is, don’t hesitate; just do it.”
“That’s my advice, too — just go for it,” said Nutt. “I giggle now that I was nervous about doing the training with NISE. It wasn’t hard to do because I was with my team, and it was fun. My students are so excited. They have a passion for learning, which makes it fun for the teachers. I’m more happy in my teaching than I've ever been. Give it a whirl and you’ll never go back.”