STEMscopes: On-line Learning for Students and Teachers

STEMscopes: On-line Learning for Students and Teachers

United States
Organization type: 
for profit
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

STEMscopes works to provide equal access to quality science instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade. Currently, differences in funding, teacher quality, student preparation, and access to equipment vary widely from school to school and even classroom to classroom, meaning that students in under-resourced learning environments receive sub-standard science education. STEMscopes’ goal is to provide web-based science instruction for students and professional development for teachers in hands-on, inquiry-based experiments, with supporting activities in concept-building, vocabulary development, assessment, enrichment, and remediation, all of which levels the playing field for teachers and students in poorer communities.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

STEMscopes will be collaborating with Callison Elementary School in Round Rock, Texas. 53.3% of Callison students are considered economically disadvantaged, making it a high-need school by federal standards. 18% of students have limited English proficiency; 40% are Hispanic, and 23% are African-American. Although 91% of Callison’s students overall passed that state standardized test in science in 2011, only 41% reached college-readiness standards, and significant achievement gaps exist: whereas 61% of white students reached college-readiness standards, only 41% of African-American students, 33% of Hispanic students, 28% of economically disadvantaged students, and 23% of students with limited English proficiency did. Many students at Callison would be members of the first generation of their families to go to college; many do not yet dream of going to college. Callison’s teachers and administrators are working to awaken that dream in all of their students and give all of them the skills they need to succeed in college and beyond. STEMscopes shares this ambition and was piloted in similar schools in Texas with amazing results: in one district with a high population of economically disadvantaged students, passing rates on the state standardized science test shot up from 63% in 2008 to 84% in 2010 among economically disadvantaged students after the implementation of STEMscopes. STEMscopes and Callison will work together to raise students’ overall level of achievement in science and to close the achievement gap.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Unequal access to high-quality science instruction perpetuates inequality in education and income, not just for this generation but for generations to come. STEMscopes sees itself as working in concert with the many organizations addressing the science achievement gap by supplementing traditional classroom instruction with web-based activities. But STEMscopes is more than simply on-line demonstrations, which teachers could draw from a wealth of You Tube videos. Teachers don’t just have students watch the virtual experiments but have students themselves do the activities. STEMscopes gives teachers a wealth of classroom activity suggestions, empowering teachers to tailor activities to their students’ specific needs. Each of these activities – from remediation work for students who do not grasp a concept right away to accelerated learning for students who quickly master content – has been tested in the Rice University Elementary Science Model Lab, so teachers can be assured that they are high quality instructional materials. On-line assessments provide teachers with instant feedback regarding student mastery of content, allowing teachers to custom-design their lessons to fit their students’ needs. On-line and face-to-face professional development helps teachers effectively utilize STEMscopes. In short, STEMscopes helps create an active, hands-on science classroom with the best possible customized science instruction for each student with activities proven to be effective with at-risk learners.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

STEMscopes is a comprehensive on-line curriculum program that provides numerous hands-on inquiry activities, plus intervention and acceleration materials, as well as teacher support resources. Teachers and students at STEMscopes schools can log on to a wealth of information and activities that are designed to (1) help students achieve college-readiness in science, (2) provide proven, research-based, and Rice University resources to help teachers provide rigorous instruction in STEM, and (3)engage students in interactive learning through games, virtual labs, online assessments, and more! STEMscopes activities can be implemented in classrooms with minimum materials – a model of the formation of fossil fuels requires only plastic cups, coffee grounds, water, and breakfast cereals. Teacher support resources cover everything from questioning strategies to draw out student curiosity to preparation of materials for a specific activity. STEMscopes is designed for a resource-poor classroom, requiring only web access and commonly available materials. Moreover, it addresses students who are underprepared in science through explicit vocabulary- and concept-building activities that are proven to work with at-risk students, including English-language learners. Teacher resources help to address the variability of teacher preparation and skill-level. In short, STEMscopes’ comprehensive web resources help balance out the inequities in student and teacher preparation and physical resources.
About You
About You
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About Your Organization
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Organization Address

MS-112, 6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77005

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

The program was the brain -child of the founder, Reid Whitaker, who in 2006 saw an overwhelming need to provide teachers with standards-based resources to implement in the science classroom. However, his focus was not just to create a bank of assessment items or isolated hands-on activities. He wanted to create a variety of learning experiences that students could do in order to learn the science concept. Children learn in different ways, have different multiple intelligences, as well as different interests. STEMscopes provides these activities that connect to the learner. Students can sing science, write science, do science, act out science, and much, much more with the program. The founder’s inspiration draws on his own work as an elementary science lab teacher as well as an elementary principal. His focus was not to create a contrived, scripted curriculum but rather a curriculum that empowers the teacher to truly create a differentiated, individualized learning science classroom.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

STEMscopes relies on a number of measurements to be sure that the program is really delivering high-quality science instruction that helps children thrive as learners. The most formal measurement is student performance on state standardized science test scores taken in fifth grade. These scores provide a cumulative picture of student learning from kindergarten through fifth grade. In Callison’s case, we hope to see a reduction of the achievement gap by at least five percentage points in the portion of students whose scores indicate college readiness. However, STEMscopes will also rely on a number of other measures of success along the way. Students will take benchmark tests twice in each grade, and their scores will be compared to Callison’s past scores and to those of other similar schools in the state that are not implementing STEMscope. The program will also rely on student and teacher feedback regarding the effectiveness of the lessons and their ability to engage students. STEMscopes will build on past successes such as its partnership with Edgewood Independent School District in Texas. In the three years since Edgewood adopted STEMscopes as its core curriculum, passing rates on the state standardized science test rose from 70% in 2008 to 88% in 2010. Teacher feedback has been highly positive: as one teacher put it, “STEMscopes completely changed the way I teach science! I now have a hands-on, investigation-based classroom, and the love of discovering new things to spread to all of my students!”

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

STEMscopes already serves 150 school districts in the state of Texas and has recently been approved by the Texas Education Agency as an authorized supplemental science materials provider. We expect tremendous growth in Texas in the next three years. However, we also expect to grow beyond Texas into the southern region of the United States, working with various state curriculum requirements to create tailored supplemental materials. Moreover, STEMscopes plans on expanding its offerings into middle school science and high school biology, chemistry, and physics, eventually reaching students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. STEMscopes aims to serve a national client base while still maintaining its strong ethos of tailored customer service and training.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

STEMscopes’ rapid expansion has so far been accomplished without sacrificing a rich relationship of customer service. STEMscopes aims to respond to every customer request within 24 hours, knowing that teachers need services immediately. It provides extensive professional development to teachers implementing STEMscopes, either through face-to-face day-long workshops or through distance learning. Expanding our customer base through geographic growth and inclusion of older students will strain STEMscopes’ existing resources. Fortunately, an expanded customer base also allows for increased customer revenue, so STEMscopes expects to be able to meet this challenge.
STEMscopes will also face the challenge of remaining current, both in terms of responding to a variety of state standards in science instruction and keeping up with technological growth in on-line learning. When STEMscopes expands beyond Texas, it will need to develop curricula that are responsive to each state’s changing requirements; this will require additional manpower in curriculum development. Moreover, STEMscopes must remain at the leading edge of on-line learning technology, requiring that we regularly provide opportunities for professional development for our own staff in technological advances. Again, our expanding customer base will provide revenue for this growth.

Tell us about your partnerships

STEMscopes currently works with 150 school districts in the state of Texas, encompassing nearly 700 public schools. Its longest running partnership is with Edgewood Independent School District, a high-need district where STEMscopes has been adopted as the core science curriculum. STEMscopes has been in place there for three years now, and the district has an established network of teachers who are experts in its implementation and serve as guides to fellow teachers. As noted above, test data and anecdotal evidence indicate that STEMscopes has been effective in increasing student knowledge of and enthusiasm for science. Humble Independent School District, now in its second year of partnership with STEMscopes, has taken advantage of its closeness to Rice University to send its teachers to the Elementary Model Lab where they have received more than 200 hours of professional development in STEMscopes implementation. Northside ISD in San Antonio has adopted STEMscopes for its high-needs schools, and has opted for on-line professional development, which STEMscopes has offered through Adobe Connect.
STEMscopes also works closely with Rice University – in fact, it was developed and piloted at the Rice University lab school. Rice provides STEMscopes with office space, access to professors and university students, and logistical support as part of Rice’s educational outreach efforts.

Explain your selections

STEMscopes’ major funding comes from its customers, school districts that have adopted the program as part of their science curriculum. Approximately 80% of our funding comes from customer revenue, and we expect this percentage to grow as STEMscopes expands. Rice University provides in-kind support in terms of office space; access to the Elementary Model Lab, professors, teachers, and students; and logistical support as part of Rice’s outreach efforts. Approximately 15% of our funding comes from Rice. Lastly, STEMscopes benefits from funds from Conoco-Philips, which supports the Elementary Model Lab where STEMscopes pilots many of its activities. Support from Conoco-Philips makes up approximately 5% of our total budget.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

One of STEMscopes’ goals is to have a vertically aligned curriculum – that is, an educational experience in which one year seamlessly prepares students for the next year and so on. Our planned expansion from elementary to middle to high school will allow us to offer a curriculum in which students can build from strength to strength throughout their primary and secondary education. We also plan to tighten up our assessment methods, being sure that the games and quizzes that we offer on-line to help teachers determine whether or not students have grasped the material really do measure mastery of content. The completion of each of these phases will be done in May of each year.

Partnerships and Accountability
Please tell us more about how your partnership was formed and how it functions. What specific role does each partner play? What unique resources does each partner bring to the initiative?

STEMscopes grew out of the Texas Regional Collaboratives project, in which science instruction leaders from throughout the state worked together to develop innovative science curriculum and professional development. Rice University initially spear-headed the effort to develop an on-line platform for elementary science instruction and professional development; STEMscopes grew out of that project. Round Rock Independent School District, Callison’s parent organization, was part of that Collaborative and received STEMscopes at a highly discounted rate. Round Rock was very impressed with the program and began phasing it in on its elementary campuses in 2009.
STEMscopes offers its tested curriculum, professional development, and on-going support to the partnership. Callison Elementary is particularly grateful for STEMscopes’ individualized student assessment with tailored activities for each student – remediation and acceleration – based on that assessment. Callison offers a diverse student body with room to grow in terms of college-readiness where STEMscopes can really shine. It also brings with it a network of teacher-leaders who are already experienced in training their peers in teaching methods, as Round Rock relies heavily on a train-the-trainers model for the delivery of professional development. Callison can also deliver a very supportive central administration, which has seen STEMscopes’ positive effects in other districts and hopes to replicate these results.

How are you building in accountability for students' successful STEM learning outcomes? Please provide a summary and examples.

STEMscopes will rely on Round Rock Independent School District’s well-honed system for monitoring the quality and content of classroom instruction on its campuses. Callison’s principal regularly observes her teachers in action, and will make a point of observing each teacher delivering a STEMscopes curriculum unit. Additionally, the Lead Curriculum Specialist for Elementary Science will observe teachers to be sure that they are delivering STEMscopes curriculum accurately and fully. STEMscopes will be held accountable for delivering quality professional development to Callison teachers through satisfaction surveys of teachers. And of course should STEMscopes not deliver improved student performance, Callison can dissolve its contract with STEMscopes at the end of the year.


Research/Information, Mentorship.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add needs that may not be listed.

STEMscopes would welcome help to research its effectiveness. All current evidence points to its success, as we consistently see increased student test scores in science and receive glowing feedback from teachers. Still, STEMscopes would like to conduct a wide-scale study which compares STEMscoopes classrooms to classrooms without the program, matching student and teacher demographics so as to isolate the effect of Stemscopes itself. We also would appreciate the mentoring of a more established organization, one that has considerable experience in science education that can help us grow in quality and scope.


Human Resources/Talent, Marketing/Media, Innovation/Ideas.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add offers that may not be listed.

STEMscopes has a lot to offer in building human resources and talent. We empower teachers, building their skills as leaders and trainers of other teachers, and help them expand their role in the classroom. We also believe that we have been very effective in grassroots marketing, and can give good advice to an organization that is starting out with a limited budget. STEMscopes has grown through its website, e-mail marketing, and word of mouth alone, without a costly advertising campaign. We can also help with innovation. STEMscopes is in the business of selling something new – a new on-line platform for instruction, a new, more engaging way of teaching. Our experience with innovation will transfer to a number of other venues, and we’re happy to help.