Claiborne Pell Elementary School, partnered with the East Bay Educational Collaborative (EBEC), this week announced that Captain James R. McIver, Commanding Officer of Naval Station Newport, RI is kicking off the professional development for Pell Elementary School teachers who volunteered to pilot the first year of Reaching for the Stars, a $500,000 K-4 STEAM program funded by the DoDEA.

Captain McIver will be speaking to Pell teachers at 8:30 am on August 23 at EBEC’s professional development facilities located on 317 Market Street in Warren, RI.

According to a press release from EBEC, Reaching for the Stars has three main goals. 1) Increase the percentage of military-connected elementary school students earning passing scores in science by 5% each year. 2) Improve the healthy eating and school-life balance habits of military-connected elementary school students by 5% each year. 3) Increase the percentage of military-connected elementary school students participating in STEAM events by 10% each year. All Pell students will have access to grant-funded resources and programs, so all students benefit.

“It is critical to our national security that our students spark interest in critical and fast-growing careers in STEM and our PreK-12 education system is poised to increase and sustain student engagement in STEM”, Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council in a statement.

“Targeted professional development and an expanded toolbox for teachers will deepen student understanding in science and math while developing literacy and healthy outdoor connections,” said Kimberly Behan, Assistant Superintendent of Newport Public Schools in a statement.

According to EBEC, Reaching for the Stars merges Pell’s pre-existing science program (Full Option Science System, FOSS) and outdoor spaces with engaging technology and three-dimensional learning through the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). During the first week of professional development, teachers will learn and practice instructional strategies to deepen understanding and application of all three NGSS dimensions; Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), Crosscutting Concepts (CCC), and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI). SEPs include student sense-making discussions, whereby a teacher facilitates student interpretation of activities and data. CCCs, such as patterns and cause and effect, provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world. Teachers will learn how to instruct children outside using FOSS outdoor connections to gardening and a grant-provided outdoor magnetic wall for collecting data and graphing.

During the second week of professional development at EBEC, teachers will learn how to code and fly drones and access the augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) systems from zSpace. Training includes instructions on using block coding in Python and linking technology to NGSS. The 60 AR/VR systems provided by zSpace enable children to kinesthetically explore, rotate and experience, objects and abstract concepts that are too small, too far away or too complex for them to otherwise understand. Using this system, elementary school children can virtually dive into a volcano, dissect a cactus, and explore the solar system. zSpace is creating SEL activities, FOSS connections and outdoor-related activities which teachers can use to engage students. Aquidneck Community Table, which manages the vegetable gardens at Pell, will contribute gardening connections. Integrated within the second week of training are presentations by SEL experts who will share methods for including social-emotional learning, supporting military-connected students, and encouraging Pell children to make healthy choices.

According to the grant writer, Kathryn Jessen-Eller of EBEC, “we hope teachers and their students will use AR/VR technology to create garden projects that will promote healthy eating and nurture an interest in the natural world. A similar model was successfully used at M. Agnes Jones Elementary in Atlanta, Georgia. The long-term goal is to expose young students to various technologies, experiments and engineering design challenges in various environments, so they picture themselves as scientists and engineers with clear pathways to STEM careers”.

Reaching for the Stars begins with the teacher professional development celebrated through Captain McIver’s keynote speech.

The program runs for four and a half years through June, 2025.

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Ryan Belmore has been the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp since 2012. He also currently works for Mountain News, where he serves as Senior Editor - North America for OnTheSnow. He previously worked for the New England Patriots and American Cancer Society. He currently serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).