When the pandemic hit, schools were among the first organizations to transition to online. At the time, leaders thought maybe an extended spring break would be enough to quell the COVID-19 outbreak, but that quickly changed when it became clear that students couldn’t return to the classroom anytime soon.
In a matter of days, curriculum needed to be redesigned and structured in a way that catered to remote learning.
Intel partnered with Portland Metro STEM Partnership, housed in Portland State’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, to provide $100,000 to develop distance learning resources for high school science for the region’s school districts and design learning kits with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for younger students to use during distance learning and social isolation.
Kristen Harrison, co-director of the Portland Metro STEM Partnership at PSU, says the STEM hub was key in being able to connect critical partners to organize, design and distribute new resources quickly.
“We were working to lay track ahead of the train,” she says.
Portland Metro STEM partnered with Portland Public Schools, Hillsboro School District, Beaverton School District and local educators to adapt the High School Science for All curriculum for physics, chemistry and biology and produce distance learning resources.
“Working together in this way let all of the districts be organized together and gave teachers great resources to use from home. Individual teachers didn't have to recreate the resources separately for each school or even each district,” Harrison says.
Working together was also key to designing STEM kits for kindergarten through 5th-grade students.
The kits included supplies — like dominos, bouncy balls and masking tape — along with guided activities to spur imagination and creativity.
“We believe in hands-on problem solving; we had to take that and focus on ‘what does every child have at home?’” Harrison says.
Designing activities and the kits themselves required an assumption that the students had access to very little at home and would use the kits without the help of an adult or older sibling.
“We wanted to give families engaging education resources quickly and have kids feel excited to receive the kits, ‘Wow! This is for me! They thought about me,’” Harrison says.
A few kindergarteners tested the activities to make sure they were engaging and could be completed on their own before the design was finalized.
Ultimately, each student received a packet with six activities and the materials needed to complete each. Those kits were distributed at school nutrition centers and from buses that were supplying summer meals to low-income families.
Jerian Abel, co-director of the Portland Metro STEM Partnership, says they are currently seeking funding to distribute a second round of STEM kits that utilizes the original resources students received. This would allow more children to have access to fun STEM activities as students return to school.
The design process hit a couple of snags along the way, primarily related to unexpected supply chain demands. Interlocking blocks, for example, were impossible to find. In total, 5,000 kits were assembled by PPS and distributed to schools in Portland, Beaverton, Banks and Hillsboro. An additional 2,000 kits went to Umpqua Valley STEM thanks to funding from the Ford Family Foundation.
“This is really an example of how we can do more together than we can separately,” Harrison says.