Jose Garcia is the STEM Education Director for Greene County Schools. He has worked there for 20 years and has focused on curriculum development for the last 10.
He says traditionally most schools utilize this type of lesson format: lecture, PowerPoint notes, and worksheets. And while he knows it is difficult to shift away from that, he and Greene County Schools have worked very hard to change it up.
What does that “change up” look like? An innovative STEM curriculum that has been customized for the students. There are “Grand Challenges,” which Garcia defines as project-based learning in teams, with an engineering and design focus. The teams are governed by the students and if someone isn’t pulling their weight they can be asked to leave the group. When Garcia saw students become complacent with Grand Challenges, he created a new model: the Citizen Chat.
Garcia took the TED talk model and the Citizen Science model and combined them to create another learning and inquiry approach. This gives students a voice and freedom over choosing topics that matter to them. It is important to him that students have the ability to talk about social issues impacting their lives.
Garcia was born in Mexico. He grew up in the United States and knows what it is like to live within two cultures. This identity is important to him and to his district. When he got to Greene County Schools, Garcia says the Latino population was 6%. Now, it is around 32%. The Grand Challenges and Citizen Chats give students with diverse identities opportunity to explore social issues, answering questions in their world and in their words.
STEM is integrated in elementary, middle, and high school for Greene County students. The district has 40 partnerships, state and national, that help fund this focus or offer opportunities for collaboration. Learn more about the experience from high school students in the photo story below: