How digital STEM tools bring polar bears to life in Texas

"we're giving kids purpose around 'Why do I have to do this math problem?'" principal says
By: | April 2, 2021
Students in at Dr. Rodriguez Elementary in south Texas engage in STEM activities that teachers have blended into lessons throughout the day.Students in at Dr. Rodriguez Elementary in south Texas engage in STEM activities that teachers have blended into lessons throughout the day.

Polar bears, though scarce in south Texas, are energizing students in STEM lessons at Dr. Rodriguez Elementary in Harlingen Consolidated ISD.

Students in the district, which is offering hybrid instruction, are collaborating in Zoom breakout rooms that allow the kids who are in-person to work with those who are still at home, Principal Adriana Arellano says.

The American Rescue Plan is providing funding for districts as administrators help students recover from learning loss and continue progress made over the last year. At Dr. Rodriguez Elementary, teachers are using Discovery Education’s digital platform to blend STEM into lessons in multiple subjects throughout the day.

“Kids are loving in the breakout rooms,” Arellano says. “They love to research and brainstorm with friends and come back and share with teachers.”


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Discovery Education also provides personalized, one-on-one coaching to guide teachers in integrating STEM.

Earlier this year students studied polar bears and became so passionate about the animals that the project has expanded to cover the wider topic of endangered species.

In other lessons, students have practiced math skills by making tables of the weights of different species of big cats, such as ocelots.

“By doing it this way, we’re giving kids purpose around ‘Why do I have to do this math problem? Why do I have to it this way,'” Arellano says. “They want to see which big cat is bigger than the others.”

The digital STEM lessons allow students to travel virtually far beyond south Texas and connect with polar bear scientists from around the globe. And the related topic of climate change hit home recently when Texas was hit by a destructive deep freeze.

During the cold snap, Discovery Education updated its platform to cover the real-time plight of sea turtles on nearby South Padre Island, Arellano says.


“It’s creating this global awareness of what’s going on in the world,” she says. “Students are creating in themselves this innate sense to help—they really care about the animals.”

Next up in STEM, students will cover plant life and agriculture as they study topics related to Earth Day. Like many districts and schools, Arellano is seeing learning gaps across the subgroups of students.

“We do see a difference with students on campus and off-campus,” Arellano says. “We know there will be gaps and I have no doubt we will be able to catch up.”


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