Educators lead the way in STEM

For the fourth year, a select group of St. Louis-area and Metro East educators will spend two weeks learning how to enhance their teaching in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“The goal is not just to raise test scores but to foster and grow a lifelong interest in the fields, thereby establishing today’s students as the STEM leaders of tomorrow. And the method seems to be paying off,” said Deborah Holmes, project manager and facilitator for the STEM Teacher Quality (TQ) Institute. “Our external evaluator has found that teachers who participate in this program are able to help students comprehend STEM in a whole new way and that is translating to increased student comprehension and success.”

Supported by STEMpact, a unique collaboration of the area’s top STEM companies, this year’s STEM TQ will take place Monday, July 13 through Wednesday, July 24 on Washington University’s Danforth Campus, hosted by the university’s Institute for School Partnership (ISP). The 2015 STEM TQ includes nearly 170 participants, up from 106 last year, and there’s a waitlist of more than 20 educators. This year’s participating school districts include Affton, East-St. Louis, Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Hillsboro, Jennings, Kirkwood, Mehlville, Normandy, Pattonville, Rockwood, St. Charles, St. Louis Language Immersion, University City, Webster Groves and Wenztville, with half of this year’s participating school districts brand new to the program.

“This program isn’t just for underserved schools. It’s for everyone,” said STEMpact board member Jeffrey Whitford with Sigma-Aldrich. “We have districts like Pattonville and Rockwood eager to participate. An educator from MICDS just asked to be on our waitlist. That speaks volumes about the reputation that STEM TQ is establishing for itself in St. Louis.”

During the intense two weeks, STEMpact facilitators and educators work with kindergarten to eighth grade teachers in daylong sessions that include hands-on learning during classroom-style presentations, investigations and field trips. The goal is to show participants how to more effectively make STEM connections in their classrooms.

Kimberly Weaver, the ISP’s engineering educator, will be leading a new session called Novel Engineering. The session will show educators how to transform novels into engineering opportunities, by encouraging students to design ways to solve problems that characters in literature are experiencing through engineering. The workshop will give educators a hands-on techniques to fuse English and engineering in the classroom.

Following STEM TQ, STEMpact provides additional training during three professional development days and six after-school development sessions throughout the school year. The participating teachers and their students are evaluated by an external evaluator and the results continue to show that the program is making a difference.

“We’ve seen enthusiasm, understanding and student achievement increase in our local schools because of this program,” Holmes said.

According to a quantitative evaluation summary executed by STEMpact, in 2014, all STEM TQ fifth and eighth grade science classrooms out-performed non-participating classrooms. In math, reports show STEM TQ students out-performing non-participating students by at least 22 index points.

“The analysis and feedback shows that teachers are excited to teach STEM and that enthusiasm is being passed on to their students,” said STEMpact board member Sarah Kramer of Peabody Energy. “Peabody Energy is very excited to be supporting this program for the fourth year because it really is helping students do better in school and possibly lead them to a fruitful career path.”

STEM TQ and its year-long follow-up programs cost about $3,200 per teacher but is free to participants thanks to the STEMpact partnership. Companies involved in STEMpact see the program as a way to inspire children, increase students’ critical thinking skills and, perhaps someday, have them build their careers in St. Louis. To accommodate more teachers this year, some school district offered contributions to the program.

“The fact is that there aren’t enough qualified workers to fill the thousands of science, technology, engineering and math jobs available today, and unless we as a society do something, we’re going to have to pull employees from outside of the area and the country,” said STEMpact board member Danny Sherling of Sigma-Aldrich. “We’re investing in this program because we want to hire employees in our own backyard. Starting with STEM TQ, these kids are learning that STEM is all around us and that there are exciting STEM jobs that they are capable of doing.”

July 2015   |  Learn more about STEMpact.

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