Congress Elementary Finds Projects to Inspire Students Part 2

Learn how Defined helped Congress Elementary teachers implement and utilize project-based learning with ease by providing templates for creating and adapting lessons, facilitating easy transitions, and supporting the district's shift to STEM education, resulting in increased STEM-related projects, conversations, and innovative programs.


The Challenge

An elementary school needed to ensure that its culture shift to STEM learning would be successfully integrated without diminishing its budget and by inspiring its teachers.

A couple of years ago, Congress Elementary School, in Arizona, wanted to make a significant culture shift in its teaching approach with a stronger focus on STEM learning. To help integrate the change, the school was one of seven in Arizona selected to receive a STEM grant via the Helios STEM School Project, through the Science Foundation of Arizona. Principal Stephanie Miller then had to select a product to use to help the STEM culture shift take hold among teachers.

She chose Defined. And, in doing so, Miller and her school’s staff and faculty found that the program could:

  1. Provide a template for teachers to easily create or adapt lessons
  2. Allow for easy transitions and fun projects to support the district’s culture shift to STEM
  3. Ease the way to comply with state standards


The Solution

Make Defined a core piece of the school’s culture shift.

Because Defined is linked to the standards it had a base for the teachers, so they knew where to get the resources they needed. Plus, it gave them a template of what they needed to use, says Miller.  “Teachers were able to do more with the product and in ways that complement the curriculum,” she adds.

With Defined, teachers in the K-8 school are able to adapt what they find on the site.  Defined made using the resource even easier for the teachers with the Moodle course that it provided all users. “That gave you the insight into what was available and how best to use it. That was at the start of the entire culture shift that we were doing,” says Suzanne Sims, Congress Elementary’s technology specialist.

Now, in its second year of the culture shift, and of using Defined, Miller says she’s seeing significant changes among students and teachers.

“More and more teachers are thinking of STEM-related projects and outcomes,” she explains. “We’re seeing a lot more conversations centered around STEM concepts.”

The shift isn’t just in conversations, but is flowing throughout projects in class, after school, and at home, Miller and Sims said.

For example, one morning while walking down a hall, Sims saw a fifth grader excitedly holding a wooden object. He said it was his compound machine that he built at home but he wanted to do something more with it. “So we were standing there having a two-minute conversation about how to modify the machine and it was really cool to see and hear his thought process,” says Sims. (The student later went to Miller’s office because he wanted to show her.)

As part of its STEM work and use of Defined, the school started an after-school STEM drama program for which students in the K-2 grades did a performance on biomes. “We’ve had drama clubs before,” says Miller, “but this time there was as much focus on STEM as on drama and there was a whole vocabulary that developed around STEM. Just adding that little tweak, and having quality products to support it, brought that drama club up to the next level.”

Sims also incorporated Defined into an after-school Lego Robotics program where students learned much more about engineering, programming, and technology. For one project about the environment, students built mini-habitats and then introduced Lego Robotic figures in the habitats. “It was amazing to see all of this,” says Sims. “These would have been isolated before, with a Lego Robotics program and an environment group. Now because of the shift to STEM culture, it’s about “How can we bring these things together and show how they interrelate and work.”

Miller adds: “That student excitement, the conversations that are happening around STEM concepts, the interest levels that students have now with some subjects because STEM is integrated in there, teachers thinking in new and different ways, it’s really exciting to see.”


Subscribe to the #1 PBL Blog!

Receive new articles in the world of Project Based Learning, STEM/STEAM, and College & Career Readiness. 

Subscribe to our blog