Impact on Learning
DeSoto Independent School District
PROJECT: iSTEAM 3D Middle School Academies
DISTRICT NAME: DeSoto Independent School District
LOCATION: DeSoto, Texas
COMPANY NAME: Smith System
DeSoto Independent School District (DeSoto ISD) is located in a suburban community 15 miles south of Dallas in north Texas. The growing district covers a 23-square-mile area and includes seven elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, and one K-12 alternative program. The goal: take the district’s STEM initiative to a higher level by implementing iSTEAM 3D academies, one within each of the district’s three middle schools, and all within an ambitious timeframe.
DeSoto Independent School District wanted to add unique STEAM academies within each of its three middle schools, which required 21st-century furnishings to maximize open learning areas. The result is more engaged students and higher performance.
Before planning the academies could begin, the district researched curriculum options. After DeSoto’s superintendent visited several Florida schools with STEM learning, the district crafted its own custom curriculum. This included adding 21stcentury learning principles to the STEM base: “A” for arts, “i” for innovation, and “3D” to emphasize discovering, designing and developing.
With its curriculum defined, the district was tasked with implementing the academies (the first within only 20 days; the other two were completed within four months). Each would have five teachers and include open learning spaces for content, projects and collaboration, a dance room and a science lab. The project required furniture that would provide a synergistic marriage of modern curriculum, space and furnishings.
DeSoto ISD selected nest-and-fold tables that can be reconfigured to accommodate numerous students while still being easy to fold and store; interchangeable lab tables with chemical resistant surfaces paired with lab stools; versatile diamond- and crescent-shaped desks to allow for creative configurations and connectivity options; chairs for classroom and lounge seating; and sleek, versatile storage units. Casters on the furniture were essential to allow easy transitions from large groups to small.
IMPACT ON LEARNING
About one year into launching the academies, DeSoto’s commitment to 21st-century learning is coming to fruition. The students are enjoying their new furniture, “because it is different from the traditional, which is facilitating a new learning process,” says East Middle School science teacher Joey Hayward. “The students in iSTEAM 3D are scoring higher than those not in it. We’ve seen tremendous growth in students.” The academies hope to soon graduate students with a skill set that will make them not only successful learners, but globally competitive in the workforce.
STEAM programs integrate the subjects taught in all schools into an inquiry-based, hands-on curriculum that more closely aligns with what students will experience after they graduate — in college and the workforce. Technology is a large component of these programs. The decision makers in the Desoto school district recognized that in order to create a learning environment that would allow students to benefit the most from this new initiative they would need to furnish the learning spaces with flexible pieces that can support this teaching and learning style, accommodate individual and group instruction, encourage collaboration, blur the lines between formal and informal learning spaces, and making better use of the space that is available.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.