Inspiring the next generation of STEM students
After working 25 years in the tech industry, Kimberly was compelled to switch gears and become a science teacher. Recent college grads had been entering her company lacking the critical thinking skills necessary for the job. She realized that instead of complaining about the problem, she should do something about it. Kimberly has been inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals ever since.
Three years ago, Kimberly began teaching 5th grade students in a small town in California. She chose to teach in a low-income neighborhood at a school where over 82% of students are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch and more than half of her students are English Languages Learners (ELL).
Kimberly was inspired when her school switched from a teacher-centric approach to a personalized learning model. An avid adopter of the student-centered mindset, Kimberly started creating engaging, project-based units for her students. Her goal was to introduce rigorous STEM topics that would compel her students to think critically, even if her students struggled to read grade-level texts. That’s when CommonLit became central for Kimberly — it provides support for struggling readers through highly engaging and diverse content.
“I really love personalized learning because it shapes kids into critical thinkers and problem solvers. That’s why Commonlit is so great because I can design curricula around that and give them background knowledge to access deeper ideas.”
Kimberly was in the middle of designing a beginning-of-the-year unit for her students on “growth-mindset” when CommonLit announced the launch of its Units. Kimberly was so excited and immediately saw how CommonLit’s Success Unit could act as a foundation for her instruction. During the unit, students read highly engaging texts such as this informational text about all of the agonizing failures the Wright Brothers experienced in an effort to build the world’s first successful airplane. After reading, students craft original arguments that respond to the unit’s essential question “What does it take to be successful?” (Hint: Resilience!).
Because CommonLit units are so flexibly designed, Kimberly was able to use the unit materials as the framework for a community project in which students were asked to go into their communities and gather insight from their neighbors about their definitions of success. Then, Kimberly had her students use their research to create maps called “community sourcing maps” using computer software provided by the school. Her students will now use the maps to design a year-long community service project.
Kimberly leverages the interesting and relatable stories on CommonLit to plan units in which students are engaging with STEM topics and skills in ways they never had before. “They’re so immersed in the project they don’t even realize they’re learning!” she said. With CommonLit, Kimberly is able to give students frequent opportunities to practice reading and writing skills in a way that is seamlessly aligned with a science content focus. For example, Kimberly used this science of the body text set in her genetics unit.
Kimberly also uses CommonLit to differentiate instruction and accelerate student reading growth. Students who began the year below grade level in reading became motivated with a constant diet of texts that progressively became more challenging. Kimberly recalls that at the end of the year, these students earned the highest score of 4 (“above grade level”) on their California State Test and have continued to make progress in school. “Now, their sixth grade teachers constantly praise them for their accelerated achievement!” she says.
While Kimberly knows that the road to a career in STEM won’t be simple for her students, she feels very encouraged by the success she has seen this year. With the help of CommonLit, Kimberly’s students have quickly made progress on foundational reading and writing skills that are essential for understanding grade-level science texts. And through a carefully-planned coherent and hands-on curriculum, she has noticed a significant difference in student interest in the sciences.
It’s clear that Kimberly has instilled a sense of curiosity and agency that has set her students on a bright path.