The West Dallas Stem School is a partnership between the Dallas Independent School District, SMU, the Toyota Foundation USA and the West Dallas Community. Now in its second year, the school wasrecently profiled by the Dallas Morning News.
Volunteers to plant 30 fruit trees Monday at West Dallas Stem School, Launching Learning Garden
DALLAS (SMU) – Volunteers will plant a fruit tree orchard between 9 a.m. and noon Monday, Dec. 12 at Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School — the first step of the school’s planned learning garden.
When the trees mature in three years, students will harvest as many apples, pears, peaches, figs and paw paws as they can eat. Other produce will be distributed through the campus general store, or shared with West Dallas nonprofit, Brother Bill’s Helping Hand.
School volunteers and partners from SMU, Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community will prepare the site for each tree, then plant and stake them. Grow North Texas, the Dallas affiliate of the Giving Grove, a national nonprofit serving communities experiencing food insecurity, is providing the trees and will oversee the planting process. To ensure a healthy and productive orchard, Grow North Texas has trained two tree stewards from Brother Bill’s Helping Hand to oversee continuing care.
The West Dallas STEM School orchard is the 11th Dallas-area orchard planted by GROW North Texas’ Giving Grove program this fall, with more scheduled by the end of February. A grant from Domino’s Pizza is funding the project through One Tree Planted, a global reforestation organization.
The mature orchard is expected to produce more than 20,000 servings of healthy fruit each year, with a typical tree lifespan of 20-30 years or more. The orchard will preserve urban greenspace, increase tree canopy and offer important environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration, improved soil biology and stormwater absorption.
In addition, the orchard will be an outdoor laboratory that will strengthen the unique project-based STEM curriculum at the West Dallas STEM School, opened in 2021 as a collaboration between Dallas ISD, SMU, the Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community.
What: An urban orchard of 30 fruit trees will be planted at Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School
When: 9 a.m. remarks and groundbreaking. Planting to follow.
Where: West Dallas STEM School, 2200 Dennison St., Dallas. Orchard entrance off Hampton Road, south of Texas Quality Remodeling
APSM Student Reflects on STEM Pilot Project for Youth Sports
This summer, I had the opportunity to be an intern for Clinical Assistant Professor Sarah Brown in her West Dallas pilot program, Pony Connect. Pony Connect is a research initiative that involves using STEM concepts in youth sports. The aim is to engage SMU students with the community. It was a mutually beneficial program because as much as the students are looked up to I have always wanted to get involved with the Dallas community and Pony Connect was the perfect opportunity for me. I was also learning so much from them. They taught me the importance of friendship, trust, and how the smallest details can make the biggest difference. It was incredible to form relationships with these students and watch their personalities shine. I loved seeing their excitement when different activities and projects were introduced.
We would give the students a test before the lesson was taught and then give them the exact same test at the end of the unit. Watching the students’ academic success improve was so rewarding. The fact that we were able to incorporate math or engineering lessons into fun activities and sports drills, showed them that learning can be fun and enjoyable. Overall, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and so proud of the work Dr. Brown has accomplished. I am excited to watch the program grow!
Essay by Elizabeth Klevana, Sport Performance Leadership major
Pictured below (left) is Iyasu Shaka, who writes his acceptance speech for winning the top prize at the camp, and Isaac Shaka (right), who presents a basketball shoe he made from cardboard, bubble wrap, and foam.
Associate Prof. Walkington and Ph.D. Student Pruitt-Britton Write Ed Week Commentary Debunking Alleged Indoctrination in Math Textbooks
Education Week published a commentary by Candace Walkington, Simmons associate professor of mathematics education and learning sciences, and co-author, Ph.D. student, Tiffini Pruitt-Britton, who show that math textbooks are not about indoctrination, but fall short in promoting diversity and inclusion.
Their commentary comes at a time when political accusations inflame education discussions at the local and national levels. Some politicians are declaring what books schools should carry and what subjects should not be taught, such as critical race theory.
“We found no references to race or social justice let alone critical race theory, a framework for understanding how racism has been persistently embedded in policy. But our analysis did show a lack of substantial attention to differences linked to race, culture, gender norms, and sexual orientation in math-story content, they say. Read their commentary here.
Toyota’s President Reflects on the Importance of STEM and Working with Partners in Education
In an op-ed for The Dallas Morning News, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, expresses his concern over training the workforce to meet the challenges and demands of the 21st century. His article stresses the importance education has in ushering change. Toyoda also delineated the partnership his company has in North Texas with Dallas ISD, SMU Simmons and the community of West Dallas to create a significant PreK to 8 STEM school near L.G. Pinkston, the neighborhood high school.
With successful partnerships and the creation of a STEM school, Toyota decided to replicate the STEM school model in 14 other U.S. cities and work with communities to bring in educational change. As Toyoda writes, “Toyota’s U.S.-Japan partnership has flourished thanks to the shared values and mutual respect forged by the people of both countries at all levels. At its heart lies education and developing people. And as a company that calls both America and Japan home, Toyota will continue working to support students and all citizens of these great countries to help ensure we can, and will, provide mobility and happiness for all.” Click here to read his article.
NSF Noyce Track 4 Grant Award to Jeanna Wieselmann Makes Examination of Integrated STEM Instruction Possible
Assistant Professor Jeanna Wieselmann, Ph.D., heads up a collaborative research team investigating how elementary teachers integrate their instruction of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The project, Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE), will examine the STEM integration of 700 elementary teachers who experienced ten different teacher preparation programs across the U.S.
According to Wieselmann, quality integrated STEM instruction requires teachers to attend to the unique aspects of each discipline while also bringing them together in authentic learning opportunities for students, and this can be challenging. The aim is to support the national need to develop and retain highly effective elementary school teachers.
“Elementary teachers are often expected to teach integrated STEM, but teacher preparation programs have been slow to incorporate experiences that prepare teachers for this type of instruction, instead of focusing on mathematics and science as completely separate disciplines. ” she says. “Our project will explore how we can better support early-career elementary teachers to build their confidence and effectiveness in teaching integrated STEM lessons, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of instruction students experience.”
Wieselmann, a faculty member in Simmons’ Department of Teaching and Learning, is the principal investigator of the project’s National Science Foundation Noyce Track 4 research grant (DUE-2151045) totaling $1.3 million. Additional principal investigators include Deepika Menon, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Sarah Haines, Ph.D. (Towson University), and Sumreen Asim. Ph.D. (Indiana University Southeast).
SMU Student Senate To Fund Scholarships For West Dallas STEM School Attendees, Rotunda Scholars
When Austin Hickle was elected SMU student body president in 2021, he was determined to inspire other student leaders to leave a legacy of opportunity for future SMU students faced with economic challenges. With his leadership, the 2021-2022 Student Senate has created two need-based scholarships – one to help students in SMU’s Rotunda Scholars Program, and one to help students from the SMU-supported Dallas ISD STEM school, who will begin applying to college in other four years.
“This is SMU students’ chance to extend a helping hand to other students,” Hickle says.
The Senate voted to award $100,000 to the Rotunda Scholars Program, a program designed to help first-year students achieve early success at SMU by promoting academic achievement, leadership and personal excellence. Members of the program are often first-generation college students attending SMU on merit and financial-need scholarships. The Student Senate Rotunda Scholars Grant Award provides funds for expenses often not provided by other scholarships, such as books, computers, membership fees for honorary organizations and study abroad.
The second scholarship, for students who attended Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School, won’t be awarded until 2026. That’s when eighth-graders at the newly opened school will apply to college. The K-8 school is a collaboration between Dallas ISD, Toyota and SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, designed to bring top-notch STEM education to students in West Dallas, where incomes and opportunity tend to lag behind other areas of the city.
Hickle has been involved with the West Dallas STEM School since he was a first-year student and scheduled an appointment with Stephanie Knight, dean of SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, to discuss education equity. In turn, Knight shared her own passion, the West Dallas STEM School. After discussing their shared goals, Knight appointed Hickle to the school planning leadership team and college and career readiness committee. Hickle also volunteers at the school, which opened to 7th and 8th graders in fall 2021.
“I became determined to enhance the opportunities for students from lower-income families and build on the growing connections between the STEM School and SMU,” Hickle says. “When I brought the West Dallas STEM School scholarship proposal to the Student Senate for vote, every elected student senator voted in favor of using student fees to support underrepresented Dallas students. The Student Senate pledged $50,000 a year to build a scholarship fund for future graduates of the West Dallas STEM School.”
Hickle graduates from SMU in May, 2022. He earned a Fulbright grant to teach students in South Korea in 2022-23, then he plans to return to the U.S. and use his Truman Scholarship to earn a law degree and a Master’s degree in education.
“Under the capable guidance of future SMU student leaders who will follow me, I hope these scholarship funds are only the beginning of a legacy of improving equity and creating a school that supports all students,” Hickle says.
His support for student scholarships is in good hands with the next SMU student body president. In addition to other leadership honors, incoming SMU Student Body President Sydney Castle is an SMU Rotunda Scholar.
Photo caption: SMU Student Body President Austin Hickle, West Dallas STEM School Principal Marion Jackson and SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development Dean Stephanie Knight tour construction of STEM Alley at the West Dallas STEM School. By fall 2022, students will experience hands-on learning here in robotics, theater tech, STEM labs and a maker space. In 2026, when they graduate from high school, West Dallas STEM School graduates will be eligible to apply for a new SMU scholarship just for them endowed by the 2021-22 SMU Student Senate. The Pre-K- 8 school is a partnership between Toyota, SMU and the Dallas ISD.
Photo by Hillsman Jackson, SMU.
Dallas Innovates Reports on Toyota’s National Roll-Out of School Model Based on the West Dallas STEM School
West Dallas STEM School Inspires Toyota’s
$110M ‘Driving Possibilities’ Program
by Kevin Cummings • Mar 3, 2022
Based on the success seen at a West Dallas school, Toyota is taking its STEM-focused educational model across the country. The Toyota USA Foundation announced the launch of a new education and community-focused initiative called Driving Possibilities. And it’s putting $110 million behind it.
“We need to better prepare the workforce of the future by providing a broader education and getting the next generation ready for high-growth careers,” said Ted Ogawa, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, in a statement. “In addition, addressing inequities that create barriers to success will help improve lives throughout the U.S.”
West Dallas origins
The company, which has its North American headquarters in Plano, said the aim of the program is to drive innovation and remove barriers to access in education, and to prepare students in pre-K through 12th grade for the workforce.
On the educational side, Driving Possibilities will be modeled after the West Dallas STEM School, which serves pre-K through 8th grade students with a project-based STEM curriculum, in addition to providing professional development to teachers and coordinating community services.
The West Dallas STEM School opened last August, supported by around $5 million in donations from Toyota and a collaboration between Dallas ISD and Southern Methodist University. In addition to offering extracurricular programs, the West Dallas school acts as a community center and food pantry.
“This partnership has afforded us the space to realize what’s possible when we focus our collective efforts on changing how we meet the needs of our students and families,” said Marion Jackson, principal at the West Dallas school, in a statement last year. “We’re committed to equipping our students to succeed in an evolving global society.”
Helping out in the community
In addition to the educational aspect, the Driving Possibilities initiative includes a focus on community engagement, with things like job training, mobility services, and food insecurity alleviation. Toyota said it’s looking to partner with other companies, local governments, educators, and nonprofits to meet those needs.
The initiative, which is being funded by Toyota Motor North America and Toyota Financial Services, will be rolling out across Toyota’s “operational communities” nationwide.
“Through our active partnerships with communities across the U.S., we collaborate to improve education and help shape the future for the next generation,” said Mark Templin, CEO at Toyota Financial Services, in a statement.
Dallas Free Press Reports on the Progress of the Newly Opened West Dallas STEM School
The new PreK-8 West Dallas STEM School opened in August admitting its first group of students, seventh-and eighth-graders. They are at L.G. Pinkston High School, which will be remodeled to accommodate STEM studies and activities next fall.
The Dallas Free Press reports on how the Dallas ISD school is gaining momentum from its principal, teachers, and the partnership with the community, Toyota USA, and SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Read more.
NSF Awards Candace Walkington and Dallas STEM Walk Partner $2.5 M to Take Math to the Streets with Gamified App
DALLAS (SMU) – To SMU math curriculum researcher Candace Walkington, the best way for students to understand math is to make it part of their lives. She’ll use her recent $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help students see that math is in the angle of a giraffe’s neck at the Dallas Zoo and in the flutter of the leaves of the cottonwood trees at Twelve Hills Nature Center in Oak Cliff.
These are just two of the stops on Dallas STEM walks, guided walks that illustrate how mathematical principles can be found in one’s surroundings. During the five-year grant, Walkington will partner with Dallas STEM walk nonprofit, talkSTEM, to better understand how educators can support math education outside of school and the role out-of-school experiences like these play in enhancing math education. First up: developing an app that turns a cell phone into an interpretive math tool.
“In this research, rather than having kids see math as symbols that exist on a worksheet or on a computer screen, we want them to see it as something that exists in the world all around them – the trees, the buildings, the artwork and the things they use every day,” says Walkington, associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “We want to help them to look at the world through the lens of math.”
Researchers will spend the first year of this grant developing a gamified app called Mathfinder, which is targeted to students in grades four through eight. The app will use augmented reality (AR) to create overlays enabling learners to hold up the camera of their cell phones to see mathematical expressions layered over the real-world objects in their camera feeds, such as the angles and shapes within the architecture of a building. It also will include short videos and directions for STEM walks, Walkington says.
Students also will be able to use Mathfinder to create and share STEM walks in their own neighborhoods, says Elizabeth Stringer, director of academics for SMU’s Guildhall video game design program and a co-investigator on the grant.
“Mathfinder will give feedback to students on the walks they create and provide data to community partners on how much time students spend at each stop,” she says.
STEM walks at nine Dallas learning sites will be featured in the app, including the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Zoo, Frontiers of Flight Museum, the GEMS Camp, the Girl Scouts STEM Center of Excellence, St. Phillips School and Community Center, Twelve Hills Nature Center and Voice of Hope Ministries.
At the Dallas Arboretum, Dustin Miller, director of experience and innovation, says the four-stop Arboretum STEM walk is already popular with visitors.
“At the Arboretum’s Children’s Adventure Garden, the educational intent is very straightforward,” he says. “The main garden’s STEM walk, however, gives people a way to engage with the garden in a way they don’t expect.”
Participating in the research will give the Arboretum an opportunity to collect quantitative data on site, he says. “This research will help us create ways for visitors to experience the gardens in a new and different way.”
For Koshi Dhingra, founder and CEO of talkSTEM, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of future STEM leaders, participating in the research will help her nonprofit understand best practices for creating STEM walks and correcting roadblocks to learning. The creation of the Mathfinder app promises to make STEM walks more engaging and convenient, she says.
Dhingra earned her doctorate in science education and has dedicated her career to STEM education, but has new appreciation for the importance of understanding mathematical concepts as a building block for all sciences.
“When students begin to see that math is all around them, not just in an algebra or calculus textbook, they begin to see themselves as math people,” she says. “They need this competency and confidence to open doors to other STEM fields.”
The NSF grant builds on Walkington’s previous research on math education. An associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, Walkington has earned more than $11 million in math education research grants, and in 2019 received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the U.S. Department of Education. Co-principal investigators for the grant include Dhingra; Anthony Petrosino, Simmons associate dean for research and outreach; Cathy Ringstaff, senior research associate, WestEd; and Elizabeth Stringer, director of academics, Guildhall.
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About Simmons School of Education & Human Development
The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU (Southern Methodist University) reflects the University’s vision of serving the most important educational needs of our city, region and nation, graduating students for successful careers in a variety of fields and providing educational opportunities beyond traditional degree programs. Recognized as a unique and transformative leader in education research, practice and policy, the School is committed to rigorous, research-driven programs that promote evidence-based, effective practices in education and human development.