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Scientists and Teachers Engaging in Professional Development with University Personnel, STEPD-UP: Spotlight Technology for the Future, SMART START, NY Focus Area: Educational Technology 


Program Director: Dr. Rebecca Grella|

Program Award: $244,251.00 annually 2021-2026

Brentwood Union Free School District (BUFSD), classified as a high needs district, is seeking funds for focused Professional Development through the Scientist and Teachers Engaging in Professional Development with University Personnel (STEPD-UP) program for a yearly cohort of 63 individuals to include 25 middle school teachers, 25 elementary school teachers and 13 building leaders to improve the implementation and learning of the new NYS K-12 COMPUTER SCIENCE AND DIGITAL FLUENCY STANDARDS in this high-need school district. The make-up of this cohort of teachers will include 4 technology teachers at the middle level and pairs of General Education/ENL and Special Education/General Education teachers to maximize these educators’ unique expertise and improve their pedagogical skill in the area of computer science and Digital Fluency. Brentwood UFSD, currently the largest suburban school district in the State, serves a steadily increasing student population (N=19,263). Of the total student population, 88% are English Language Learners (ELLs). The 2018-2019 New York State Education Department (NYSED) assessment in English Language Arts (ELA) showed that 62% and 63% of students with disabilities and ELLs received a Level 1, respectively. These percentages are significantly higher than that of the All Students (38%) and Economically Disadvantaged (39%) subgroups (N = 2,546 students tested). Additionally, only 7% of students with disabilities and 5% of ELLs met proficiency (L3 + L4) on the 2018-2019 state ELA exam. Our goal with STEPD-UP: Spotlight Technology for the Future is to bridge the gap between these groups and our general education population. Our PD modules offer teachers and leadership the opportunity to engage in cutting edge science and technology as a means to improve pedagogical skill and instructional leadership capacity. Our program will target 13 schools, 250 teachers, 65 administrators, with a project target of 59,005 students over (5) years. 


The STEPD-UP ( program rolls out another exciting modular-based PD approach using a cohort model in collaboration with Stony Brook University. The program is targeting our General Education/ENL Co-teaching classrooms, Level 3 Special Education teachers and General Education teachers in our elementary and middle schools as well as our Technology Teachers at the middle level yearly between 2020-2025.The STEPD-UP Lab Classroom Cohort is an in-house model of professional learning that provides context for teachers to experience in-depth, sustained professional growth within a collaborative learning community.  Like surgical theaters where doctors observe actual operations in progress to hone their techniques, the Lab Classroom provides authentic opportunities for teachers to “see” ideas in practice. Because the model provides for several sessions throughout the year, teachers will have the opportunity to share and discuss new learning and challenges of their independent practice with their colleagues, continually improving. We aim to provide teachers of these groups with professional learning experiences that focus on 21st century skills, encourage students to think, collaborate, and innovate. Within the scope of the program, teachers will explore STEM careers, experience engineering activities, and learn ways to introduce students to our scientific and technological world. The program will provide teachers with strategies and techniques to help our “struggling” groups of learners engage in project-based learning with real world tasks, open-ended investigations, and the engineering and design process. During learning, teachers will also take advantage of their background knowledge in SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies and embed these engagement routines and strategies into their lessons to help children access the grade level content knowledge as defined by the learning progressions in the new NYS K-12 COMPUTER SCIENCE AND DIGITAL FLUENCY STANDARDS. 


Research shows that students who are engaged in STEM by the time they are adolescents are more likely to pursue the field as adults; however, research also shows that elementary teachers are “generalists” and few are trained specifically to teach STEM concepts. Just 3 percent of undergraduate elementary programs require relevant coursework or ask candidates to pass an admissions test in biology, chemistry, and physics or physical science according to the National Council of Teacher Quality. That lack of training can influence the amount of time elementary teachers will spend on science.  And many elementary teachers don’t have good science training themselves, so they lack content area confidence. Likewise, the Technology Courses currently offered in our middle schools lack luster and focus on wood shop and industrial arts. Cohort members of the STEPD-UP program will consist of elementary level teachers grades 5 and 6 and Middle school technology teachers grade 7-8 where we will seek to bridge the gap between students’ interest and teachers’ knowledge through on-the-job coaching.   


A partnership with Stony Brook University will offer our teachers a chance to be coached on high-quality standards-aligned computer science and Digital Fluency standards. Stony Brook professors and the STEPD-UP program director will model teaching lessons and provide professional development on the states’ new computer science and Digital Fluency frameworks.  All cohort members will receive professional development addressing the NYS K-12 Computer Science and Digital Fluency Learning Standards to be adopted in 2019 to improve the teaching and learning of all students through project-based learning initiatives.   


The New York State Blueprint for English Language Learner Success identifies the large increase of ELLs throughout the state and that now, “all teachers are teachers of English Language Learners and need to plan accordingly”. The STEPD-UP program specifically addresses Principal 6 of this Blueprint to create “intentional learning opportunities for all teachers to collaborate and design instruction, analyze student work and develop rigorous lessons”.  STEPD-UP offers the opportunity to train teachers how to immerse students in project-based learning activities with the Digital Fluency standards serving as the backbone which facilitates language acquisition and content knowledge for ELLs and SWDs. Throughout the STEPD-UP program educators will employ Digital Fluency and computer science practices by employing: Computing and Society (CAS), Digital Tools and Collaboration (DTC), Computing Systems (CS) and Computational Thinking. We will encourage the use of digital platforms like Twitter to collaborate with others, and promote our program.  Our model empowers teachers to think like scientists and encourages them to assist their students in becoming leaders in the workforce and beyond.  Using the Digital Fluency Standards and STEAM as our platform we employ a 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) learning cycle to create teacher-centered experiences, aimed to create student-centered classroom experience based on 21st century learning. We aim to create the most innovative teachers that are implementing cutting-edge science and technology in their classrooms see: 





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