University Community

Future teachers learn project-based skills through STEM partnership

The Chillicothe City School District (CCSD) and Ohio University Chillicothe have joined forces to enhance STEM education opportunities for students through a mutually beneficial partnership. This innovative partnership brings personalized STEM learning experiences to young learners in the Chillicothe schools while providing invaluable teaching opportunities for future teachers who are pursuing degrees in education at OHIO Chillicothe. 

At the heart of this collaboration is Dana Letts, a proud Ohio University graduate and CCSD’s curriculum and instruction director, overseeing the district's STEM programming. Letts earned her Bachelor of Science in education from Ohio University’s Patton College of Education and came home to Chillicothe to do her student teaching at Allen Elementary School before being hired to be a kindergarten teacher there. Now she leads initiatives to give every child in CCSD access to STEM education.

“Our number one goal is to ensure every child gets STEM,” Letts said. “That is very difficult to realize with limited staffing. It takes a lot of hands to deliver personalized education for that number of kids. We have 600 students at Chillicothe Primary School alone.”

Through a program they call VOICE (Variety of Individualized Choices in Education), CCSD empowers students from kindergarten through high school to explore STEM subjects of their choice. Once a year, students select a topic to explore further, leading to immersive learning experiences guided by STEM facilitators.

Each spring Letts visits OHIO Chillicothe and speaks with students in their Elementary Science Methods and Middle Childhood Science Methods classes, sharing information on what STEM is and how it is implemented at CCSD. She discusses activities, grant writing, ways to get started, and more. Then the future educators get to visit Chillicothe Primary School classrooms where they gain hands-on experience in delivering STEM education. 

An OHIO student teaches a class at the Chillicothe Primary School

Senior early childhood education major Hailee Crowe said she felt she was making a difference when she helped facilitate the STEM projects at Chillicothe Primary School last year. She was impressed with the creativity displayed by the elementary students using limited materials to make a functional windmill.

“Students from many backgrounds and levels joined together to create and complete a challenging and inquisitive project,” Crowe said. “The students seemed to enjoy the chosen activities and worked together as a team. Students need to have engaging projects that promote higher levels of thinking. Chillicothe Primary School’s program does just that! OHIO Chillicothe’s partnership with Chillicothe Primary gives future teachers an experience to see how we can use projects and lessons to promote higher thinking and boost children’s creativity and curiosity.” 

Junior Kayla Osborne appreciated learning how to incorporate science into the elementary curriculum and getting to help primary school students use commonly found materials to build a working windmill.

“It allowed us to get experience teaching more than reading or mathematics, and to see the students being imaginative and innovative,” Osborne said. 

Lorna Buskirk, educational program assistant and instructor at OHIO Chillicothe, highlighted the benefits of this collaboration to the pre-service educators she is helping to prepare for careers as teachers.

“Ohio University Chillicothe teacher candidates are fortunate to have this opportunity to work with experienced STEM facilitators to practice teaching in this setting,” Buskirk said. “This experience gives them a chance to participate in a STEM program that serves as a model for schools across the country.”

Leah Berry, also a junior, enjoyed working with the primary students and learning from the STEM teachers. “I don’t know who had more fun, me or the students! They had so much fun learning about wind energy and building wind turbines,” Berry said.

Letts said CCSD’s partnership with OHIO Chillicothe benefits all involved. She appreciates having pre-service teachers extend the reach of her team in the schools and enjoys getting to watch them learn and grow as future educators.

“Having a STEM lab is crucial, and it helps our pre-service teachers gain experience in planning options for students and following their lead,” Letts said. “It's wonderful for pre-service teachers to have that experience. It doesn't feel so foreign when they enter a classroom, and the expectation is to give students voice and choice.”

While the pre-service educators from OHIO Chillicothe are gaining valuable STEM experience through the CCSD partnership, the students they teach also benefit from having college students in their classrooms. Letts said she looks forward to welcoming OHIO Chillicothe students into the primary school where the elementary students react positively to the pre-service educators.

“It’s exciting for our students to have someone young come into their classrooms,” Letts said. 

Letts and Buskirk hope to inspire future educators as they get to actively participate in STEM education. 

“We want the pre-service teachers to see that there are awesome jobs here in the Chillicothe City School District and we want people who are interested in STEM to take a look at us,” Letts said. 

May 7, 2024
Staff reports