On May 8, the District 65 School Board approved, by a 6-0 vote, an Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum for one unit of study for fourth- and fifth-graders, and also approved using the Lucy Calkins reading curriculum in kindergarten and first grade.

Engineering Is Elementary

Matsuo Marti, Director of STEM at District 65, recommended the adoption of the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum for one unit of study for fourth and fifth grades.  

In Spring 2014, ISBE adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). One key emphasis in the NGSS is the inclusion of Engineering Design Standards, which establishes the need for all students to experience learning opportunities to acquire engineering design practices and concepts, said Mr. Marti.

The current K-5 science curriculum uses instructional materials from the Full Option Science System series, published in 2005. In the 2015-16 school year, one unit of study (out of three) was removed from each grade level in K-5; and this school year, 2016-17, the District piloted two engineering curriculum units that were aligned with NGSS to determine which was better suited for  implementation at grades four and five and to begin a shift to NGSS.

The two curricula that were piloted were the Hand2Mind: STEM in Action curriculum (developed by Texas A&M and Purdue Universities) and the EiE curriculum (developed by the Museum of Science, Boston).

Fourth-graders in the pilot focused on developing a solar oven for people in Botswana, where other fuels are scarce. Fifth-graders focused on developing a water filter to remove the cloudiness from river water in India, said Mr. Marti

“The long-term goal is to develop our students to be innovators and problem solvers – really looking at problems in the community and being able to solve them,” said Mr. Marti. “The community could be as small as the classroom or as large as the world. We want our students to be able to solve the pressing issues our society is going to face. The EiE curriculum really provides a start to training that mindset that we want to instill in our students.”

Significantly higher percentages of the pilot teachers “strongly supported” the EiE curriculum, and they recommended that curriculum.

The pilot teachers found that the EiE’s unit resources, including the teacher guides and student handbooks, were “significantly more” developed than the Hand2Mind resources; they engaged students at a deeper level; they provided opportunities for more students to engage in the design problem; and they facilitated opportunities for students to redesign, conduct new experiments, and build upon previous results.

The District’s Science Standing Committee and the Curriculum Advisory Committee both voted to support the adoption of EiE. 

Lucy Calkins Reading Curriculum

During the 2016-17 school year District 65 began implementing the literacy framework, which provides expectations for literacy instruction in K-3 classrooms across the District. The focus for the 2016-17 year was to implement and support “language workshop” in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms and “reading workshop” in second- and third-grade classrooms. The District approved using a reading workshop curriculum, called the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Teaching Reading, for grades two and three.

At the Board’s May 8 meeting, Stacy Beardsley, Executive Director of curriculum and Instruction, recommended that the District extend the Lucy Calkins curriculum into kindergarten and first grades in 2017-18.

“We see this as being very important because it supports purposeful collaborative teaching and creates very focused core classroom instruction in the form of mini-lessons,” said Ms. Beardsley. “So kids on a daily basis are encountering very focused literacy instruction for about 15 minutes. … This curriculum is really focused on getting students to break apart words, to begin to understand text, and basically increase their reading independence. We think it’s incredibly important to have students engaged in their reading, to be struggling with complex texts, and to be getting the necessary supports from teachers. 

During the 2016-17 school year, the District piloted the Lucy Calkins curriculum in 10 kindergarten classes and eight first-grade classes. The pilot teachers recommended the curriculum and commented that the materials provided rigorous and engaging instruction focused on developing reading skills and strategies, that the Units of Study provide resources and strategies to meet the diversity of learners.

Teachers in dual language classrooms noted that instruction and supports in these classrooms need to be planned well in advance and that resources needed to be available in English and Spanish for both teachers and students.

The ELA Standing Committee and the Curriculum Advisory Committee each voted to support expanding the Lucy Calkins curriculum to kindergarten and first grade.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...