• STEM at Usher

    Our STEM story began around the 2016 school year.  On October 1, 2021, Usher-Collier Elementary became a Cognia STEM Certified School.

    Branding and Core Identity

    Usher developed an extended vision and mission for STEM.  We have:

    • A STEM Specialist.
    • A STEM Lab and a STEM Lab Teacher.
    • An Engineering Lab (Tinker Lab).
    • A coding lab (Innovation Café).

    Students are exposed to monthly STEM challenges and three to four project-based learning activities a year.  Engineering and entrepreneurship are our pathways.  Our mission and vision propel our work:

    Mission- The staff at Usher-Collier will foster a caring and innovative environment where students are known by name and need in order to prepare future leaders that will graduate college and career ready.

    Vision: Usher-Collier Elementary is to inspire students to dream big and do the improbable through problem solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills.

    Theme: Building a Better World, One Entrepreneur at a Time, and our overall driving question was “How do we use STEM to cultivate a maker culture to improve our community?”

    Motto: Work Hard, Get Smart, While Making No Excuses

    Core Values and Beliefs

    Usher’s philosophy is that all children need a stimulating environment where they feel valued, safe, can take risks, share ideas, and thrive academically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and physically.  We strive to create an atmosphere where our students are invited to think critically, engage in decision making, while flourishing in STEM skills. We believe that students must have access to hands on learning, teachers act as facilitators, student choice and curiosity are involved in the learning process, and student grapple with real world problem solving as they build knowledge of technology, science, math, and other STEM skills.

    Institutional Practices and STEM Framework

    As the school continues along the STEM continuum, we focus on the importance of equipping our teachers with the knowledge to expose students to STEM principles and skills: Creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, problem solving, inquiry, math and science skills, engineering design thinking, and collaboration.  We developed a special calendar in order to provide STEM, science, and math professional developments. 

    For the 2021 school year, a special strategy (STEM in the PBL) was put into action schoolwide to ensure teachers as well as students understand how STEM is used to help solve real-world problems they create.

    Challenges and Success

    We have not perfected STEM at Usher, but STEM is a driving force in our curriculum.  Most teachers no longer look at STEM as an addition, but an integral part of what we teach and do. Implementing STEM at Usher changed the culture of our school for the better.  The students and parents are more engaged in the learning process; and, we have noticed a serious increase in the number of students entering STEM related competitions.  Many of our stakeholders follow us on social media; additionally, we inform parents via flyers, newsletters, and robo calls.

    Usher has seven committed partnerships who invest in our STEM curriculum. Additionally, some of those partners recruit other partners to assist with our PBLs.  We have added a technology lab (Innovation Café) and formed a new partnership Georgia Tech, who will be teaching computer science and robotics to third-fifth grade students.

    STEM K12 1: School/program provides equitable opportunities for students to engage in high quality STEM learning.

    Usher’s students engage in three to four project-based learning lessons each year, as well as monthly STEM challenges. The third PBL is normally shorter than the first two due to standardized testing. The PBLs and STEM activities are amended by the Special Education teachers to accommodate students with distinct needs. All students, except students with specifics in their IEP, participate in all labs.

    STEM K12 2: STEM educators collaborate to develop, implement, and improve high quality STEM learning activities.

    Teacher collaboration in developing, implementing, and improving quality project-based learning lessons is steadily involving. 

    STEM K12 3: School/program engages diverse STEM community in order to support and sustain STEM programs and initiatives.

    Usher attempts to involve multiple business, community, and post-secondary partnerships in-class instruction and project/problem-based learning activities. Additionally, each year, the school host a STEM Career Day.  Our partners:

    Hand on Atlanta

    The Ryan Cameron Foundation

    The Logan Wilks Foundation

    The Greg Street Foundation

    Atlanta Audubon Society

    Lockheed Martin Engineers

    Bethlehem City of Faith Church

    Radcliff Presbyterian Church


    4-H/University of Georgia

    Georgia Tech University

    The Charles Williams Foundation

    Trees Atlanta-Sabrina Melendez 2019

    STEM K12 4: School/program has established a shared vision for STEM and has leadership structures to support effective implementation.

    Celebrating achievement is an emphasis. Teachers, teams, and students who demonstrate STEM culture and vision are recognized through special board, our social medias, in faculty meetings, and on announcements. Teachers engage in targeted professional development.

    STEM K12 5: Leaders ensure that all stakeholders have ongoing opportunities to access information and learn about STEM implementation.

    Usher’s vigor is that educators and leadership participate in an ongoing system of STEM-specific professional learning.

    STEM K12 6: Educators and leaders participate in an ongoing system of STEM-specific professional learning.

    An asset is that Usher’s teachers participate in on going professional development, especially as it relates to STEM. Now, teachers can request specific professional development courses according to individual as well as collective needs.  Professional development for our staff is a serious focus because we want to equip teachers with knowledge need to ensure student success. 

    STEM K12 7: Students engage collaboratively in authentic inquiry during ongoing units of study.

    Usher’s students engage collaboratively in authentic inquiry during ongoing units of study in science, project, and problem-based learning activities, and during STEM challenges. This year we are going to focus on using math to lead some project-based learning activities and lessons. A plus is that Usher has been able to increase the number of project-based learning activities each year. 

    STEM K12 8: Students engage in self-directed STEM learning guided by educators who are effective facilitators of learning.

    Usher’s students engage in self-directed STEM learning when working on a science, engineering, or technology project for competitions.  Like most STEM activities, effective facilitators of learning guide the process. Short and long-term projects/problems are implemented throughout the school year, incorporating very little student-generated ideas that are standards-based, multidisciplinary and real-world. Furthermore, our students conduct investigative research where they make claims, collect evidence, analyze data, and argue from evidence based on research of choice, but all is confined to specific PBLS designed by grade level teachers. 

    STEM K12 9: School/program provides within-school and extra-curricular opportunities for students to extend STEM learning.

    Within the school, all students participate in at least three long-term, or four short-term, authentic, interdisciplinary PBL per school year as well as monthly STEM challenges.  Fridays are designated STEM Fridays.  Teachers spend the entire day integrating STEM skills across the curriculum. 

    STEM K12 10: Students demonstrate their learning through performance-based assessments and have opportunities to develop self-assessment and self-monitoring skills.

    Evidence of performance-based assessments are written with in our project/problem-based learning lessons.  Other forms include peer reviews and other feedback.

    STEM K12 11: STEM learning experiences integrate all STEM disciplines with an emphasis on processes and practices associated with STEM.

    Our PBLs are designed to address science, math, ELA, and reading standards, social studies where it fits.  STEM skills and practices are infused into those standards and accompany activities. Technology use is evident throughout STEM classrooms. Our students are producers and not just consumers of digital content.  They use technology to explore, research, collect, and analyze data. Engineering is one of our pathways and is heavily supported in our STEM curriculum. We design lessons to enrich math, literacy and accelerate students through differentiation.  Students receive daily integrated math and science instruction where STEM skills and cross cutting concepts are emphasized.

    STEM K12 12: School/program provides high quality STEM courses and curriculum aligned to recognized standards and organized into interdisciplinary frameworks.

    A potency is that we use content standards, the engineering design process, and a focus on STEM careers and skills to drive our PBLs.  We are implementing some new practices, which started October 2020 with fifth grade students, in science.  Along with the content, we are teaching students to identify the crosscutting concepts and the science and engineering practices in our science lessons. In addition, we follow the 5E's model (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration and Evaluation) when structuring the lessons.  Since third, fourth, and fifth grades are departmentalized, we will start using the same practices with those grade level.  Teachers collaborate weekly to plan integrated lessons, share/co-create STEM activities, and plan for learning outcomes.

    13 Students demonstrate STEM content knowledge representative of STEM literacy outcomes that prepare them for the next level of learning and work.

    Usher presents several STEM Showcases/Exhibitions per year.  During these times, students "show what they know." 

    14: Students develop STEM skills and cross-cutting competencies that support workforce readiness.

    At the elementary level, we focus on ensuring that students are learning STEM skills and principles, as well as academic skills to prepare them for the next level of education. We work on preparing students for academic success as well as science, engineering, technology, and oratorical, and other competitions.

    STEM K12 15: School/program engages in a continuous improvement process for STEM


    Since 2017, Usher STEM program has been evolving and making positive progress.  We have experienced a lot of struggles along the way, but we persevered. 

    Every year, we:

    • Engage in more intentional professional development to ensure that we are building teacher capacity and STEM knowledge.
    • Added labs (Tinker, Science/STEM, and Innovation Café) to increase students’ opportunities to engage in STEM processes.
    • Managed to start a few clubs that immerse students in STEM skills outside of the regular school day.
    • Increased the quality of our PBLs, as noted by our STEM Reviews.
    • Have sustained several stable partnerships and included more expertise in our PBLs.
    • Have a specific branding and a STEM culture.
    • Equip our students to be able to articulate STEM principles and skills.
    • Have been able to keep an active STEM Team for the last three years.

    STEM K12 16: School/program conducts evaluative activities to ensure the effectiveness of STEM implementation.

    Our active and diverse STEM Team, with the input of the entire staff, Go Team, and community partners creates, monitors, and evaluates a plan for our STEM program monthly to ensure that the vision, mission, and plans for the STEM program are successful.