Announcing: Partnership with Tennessee STEM Innovation Network

Defined Learning has partnered with Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN) to offer schools STEM career awareness curriculum through project-based learning tasks for students grades 5-8 at no cost to schools.

Defined Learning was selected as it is a curriculum proven to engage students in project-based performance tasks and meets the requirements and standards specific to Tennessee. Our mission of helping districts offer students relevant educational experiences to encourage critical thinking and collaboration, and provide an authentic assessment of understanding is strengthened through this unique partnership.

TSIN provides wrap-around supports focused on promoting and integrating STEM and/or STEAM learning for teachers, schools, and districts across the state of Tennessee to better prepare them for postsecondary success. Providing a high-quality middle school STEM career awareness online platform supports teachers as they prepare for fully virtual, hybrid, or in-person classes this fall.

How Defined Learning Supports Virtual/Distance Learning

Project-based education grants flexibility and an independent, productive model where students have the freedom to work independently or collaborate even at a distance. Performance tasks work well especially when students do not all have access to the same materials or resources; it’s also efficient for teachers to reduce preparation time. Teachers’ roles shift to more of an advisor and supportive coach — staying connecting through to-do’s and tasks that support the holistic project.

Out of the Box (& Classroom) Education

Even prior to the pandemic that forced the hand of schools across the country to pivot from traditional teaching models, the need to reimagine how students learn best has been at the core of districts’ priorities. Shifting from prescriptive methodologies based on statewide accountability and student outcomes to how best to educate and prepare students for life has required districts to move past the disruptions and distractions to determine how effective project-based learning is.

Students have long been held accountable for competence, understanding, and even mastery of subject matter in school. That approach is based on passively learning to recite out of context. The missing piece of that experience is the application and how it relates to scenarios mirrored in careers. Solving complex problems helps students develop advanced skills that prepare them for what comes next — and grants them the ability to cultivate natural interests in an exploratory manner.

Building Teacher Capacity & Content for Students

Brandi Stroecker is the Director of TSIN. She explained how TSIN aligns with building both teacher capacity and content for students.

“It’s a partnership between the Tennessee Department of Education and Battelle — one of the largest nonprofit research and development firms in the country. All students, regardless of career path, will benefit from learning STEM concepts and practices allowing them to better understand the world around them and improve their logical reasoning, problem solving, and creativity. STEM professionals are needed within nearly every field, many with strong job growth prospects in Tennessee - including healthcare, engineering, computer science, and manufacturing. Our team feels incredibly fortunate to be in the position to invest in the growth and development of the next generation through this partnership."

Wilson County Schools —

Dr. Donna Wright served as the Director of Wilson County Schools and has more than 30 years of experience in education, teaching, and administration. With nearly 20,000 students in 22 schools, Dr. Wright has led her educators to Defined Learning for middle schoolers as a way to bolster Wilson County Schools’ purpose and why.

This is really important for our middle school kids. In my opinion, there’s a lot of attention spent on K-5 and secondary 9-12. That’s what excited me about Defined Learning — the possibilities of addressing middle school. We don’t want our students to have regurgitation of elementary school or be shocked when they get to high school; we want to engage students and encourage career exploration which typically starts in 8th grade. With Defined Learning, we can begin supporting curiosity and skills as early as 5th grade.

Right now, we’re having to rethink how we provide instruction. We have the technology, now what? How can we prepare our students and what is the best outcome for them? Programs like Defined Learning that support learning outside of the classroom is how. This becomes an incredible opportunity to set the stage for whatever type of learning model we return to this fall. Project-based learning allows students to explore and collaborate. It’s easy to navigate through Defined Learning — it provides exploration, research, and engagement plus helps them find something in education that they never would have exposure or the opportunity to.”

Joy in the Classroom

Dr. Wright continued, “The state board is issuing new rules on length of time per day students need to be engaged, even in a virtual learning model. How do you measure that? Defined Learning offers a way to bring cross-curricular instruction that offers problems that need solving and will definitely keep those students engaged. We’ll be able to monitor progress while meeting state requirements. This applies to the traditional classroom as well. It’s important to my teachers to bring the joy of learning back to the classroom

Bartlett City Schools —

Katie McCain is the 6-12 Instructional Supervisors for Bartlett City Schools in Shelby County. Her district has 11 schools including three middle schools and a freshman-only school called Bartlett Ninth Grade Academy.

She said, “It’s amazing. It was my favorite thing to see this year. Watching and listening to students ask questions, push each other, and exhibit pride in their final projects … they couldn’t wait to share. It added an extra element for the first time in a long time to our gifted classes. They love working together. We’re all striving for excitement in school, and this is a vehicle to get them there. It’s hard to develop these modules, and it’s hard to truly develop a project-based activity.”

Bartlett City Schools intends to rollout Defined Learning in both middle school and high school alongside elementary for the upcoming school year.

McCain said, “That’s what sold us on going school-wide. Our CTE supervisor looked at career exploration-type courses. They’re mostly quizzes and interest inventory-type content. No application. Students can say I want to be an engineer but this also backs it up, taking it a step further. This is far more than what you can get past a stagnant survey or interest inventory. They get to see careers for what they are.”

Middle School

She added, “We are excited to have that piece through TSIN for middle schoolers. We are working on unifying our middle schools. We’ll make it available and I think we’ll have several teachers who are struggling with how in the world do I do virtual STEM? Those classes traditionally run beautifully because they’re in person and hands-on. How do you take that same experience and make it virtual? Defined Learning is the best answer to that question.”

As we wait and watch the world of education respond to the changes the pandemic has forced, we’re optimistic about the change we’re making by collaborating with TSIN on behalf of students across the state of Tennessee.


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