East Farms students present projects to other classrooms

Collin Zurfluh reads from his description of a futuristic helicopter in his fifth-grade class at East Farms STEAM Magnet School on Friday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Collin Zurfluh reads from his description of a futuristic helicopter in his fifth-grade class at East Farms STEAM Magnet School on Friday. (Jesse Tinsley)

Like schools throughout the country, East Farms STEAM Magnet School in the East Valley School District has been busy wrapping up before summer vacation and thinking back on the work staff and students have been doing.

On Friday, the school held its third cumulative day, during which students visit other classrooms and learn about projects they have been working on and how they have answered the schoolwide trimester theme, “How do we impact the Earth?”

Principal Tammy Fuller said the first cumulative day at the end of the first trimester was fairly stressful for teachers and students as they tried to come up with a creative presentation for the other students. By the third trimester, Fuller said everyone agreed on a way to make the day simpler.

“Just have your kids present what they’ve learned,” Fuller said.

Angie Bordwell’s seventh-grade science class showed off plants they have been growing and learning about.

Alan Neilson explained how plants take energy from the sun to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, showing off his watermelon plant.

“I’m going to plant it in my garden,” he said.

Fuller said plans are in motion for next year, with more special STEAM activities, including an evening event.

And, parents are calling Fuller to learn about choicing into the school because of these programs.

“Our teachers did this work,” she said. “It’s been kind of miraculous.”

Scores on the rise

As the programs at East Farms have grown during the past three years, test scores have been increasing as well.

This year’s test scores won’t be available until sometime this summer, but scores from the previous years’ Measurements of Student Progress tests are available on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

During the 2009-10 school year, of the fourth-graders (who are in the seventh grade now) at East Farms, almost 65 percent met reading standards, and nearly 40 percent met math standards.

The next school year, 2010-11, of those same students, almost 52 percent met reading standards and almost 55 percent met math standards.

But last year’s scores showed significant improvement in that same group of students. Almost 67 percent met reading standards and almost 69 percent met math standards.

Fuller said she believes this jump is a result of collaboration time for teachers that began in 2010-11, the year the scored dipped. She said teachers focus on the four questions of the school improvement plan: What do we expect our children to learn? How will we know when they have learned it? How will we respond when they don’t learn? How will we respond when they already know it?

Along with these questions, they spend time analyzing academic growth in the students and their own teaching.

“It’s the most powerful work I’ve ever been involved in,” Fuller said. She said during the first year of collaboration time, teachers and staff learned the process. The last two years they started doing the work and aligning the curriculum with state standards and the upcoming common core standards.

“It changes the way you teach,” she said.

Districtwide, of fourth-graders in 2009-10, about 71 percent met standards in reading, and about 54 percent met math standards. The next year, 2010-11, almost 59 percent of those same students met reading standards and about 64 percent met math standards. Last year, 2011-12, almost 76 percent met reading standards and almost 63 percent met math standards.

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