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Makerspaces, Drones and Robotics: The Next Generation of STEM Learning

Incorporating new technologies and taking a collaborative approach

K12 STEM programs are evolving, incorporating new tools and technologies to better prepare students for rapidly changing college and career environments. Makerspaces, drones, coding and robotics are all part of this next generation of STEM learning that is just beginning to have an impact in districts.

This web seminar focused on incorporating these new tools. Presenters included the superintendent of the Roscoe Collegiate ISD in Texas, where an Early College/STEM Academy has garnered national recognition for its program, as well as the superintendent of Wallingford Public Schools in Connecticut, which is expanding STEM learning opportunities by taking a collaborative approach with the community and local businesses. In addition, a grant funding expert shared specific, actionable funding resources that can help support STEM initiatives. 

Kim Alexander

Superintendent 

Roscoe Collegiate ISD (Texas)

Salvatore Menzo

Superintendent 

Wallingford Public Schools (Conn.)

Paula Love

President

RFPMatch.com

Kim Alexander: In 2000, we noticed that disadvantaged students would graduate high school with good test scores and good grades, yet in many cases walking off that graduation stage was like walking off a cliff. The best part of their life was now behind them. As we started drilling down, we realized that a high school diploma by itself would no longer get these students where they need to go.

We implemented early college in 2009. We evolved into a schoolwide early college, and now a schoolwide STEM academy. Last year 27 of our 28 graduates completed an associate degree through Western Texas College before they graduated high school. In Texas there are 2.5 jobs for every unemployed person in the STEM fields, and 3.3 unemployed people for every one non-STEM job. It’s a no-brainer. We’re in an agricultural region of Texas; there are 60,000 agriculture-related jobs per year that require a bachelor’s degree or higher, yet only 35,000 are being filled.

We have two basic STEM tracks: biomedical science and engineering. Students in the clinical pathway who have a straight-A average can enter seamlessly into the College of Biomedical Science at Texas A&M. Students in engineering can enter the College of Engineering at Texas Tech.

We have multiple system and higher ed partners, and we’ve started advancing into business partnerships. Office Depot is one of our corporate sponsors. We partnered with a drone company in our area to develop a pilot training curriculum for our students to gain FAA commercial pilot certification for commercial drone flight to become part of a projected $82.5 billion industry by 2025. Office Depot did a great job of packaging and marketing that through their 1,400 locations across the country.

Our mission is to move education from theory to practice to turn as many educational situations into laboratory hands-on learning, which can lead to scholarships at the university and graduate level. 

Sal Menzo: We’re looking to offer authentic opportunities for students to have relevant learning experiences. We work very collaboratively with our community to do this. We have significant industry—manufacturing, low-tech, high-tech and everything in between. We need to prepare students to go into that workforce and to make those companies viable. But we want to go beyond that, to make sure that all of our students are coming to those courses with the correct mindset, the correct focus on problem-solving and problem-finding.

One of our challenges is there’s a lack of interest in the STEM fields. So we wanted to increase student engagement, to reinvest in creativity, and to have a mindful eye toward next-gen science standards as we 

 move forward. We continue to hear from businesses that they want students to have soft skills: perseverance, communication, empathy. So we’re preparing students to be good communicators and collaborators. When we look at the soft skills, it’s work ethic, socialization, technology, written communication. All of these come together.

Makerspaces with design thinking are a key to program development and to program enhancement and augmentation. Some people might equate design thinking to inquiry-based science, but it’s different in that it provides a broader opportunity for students to investigate and solve problems. It provides them less context and more opportunity to explore their own interests in their areas of concern, which then increases the relevance and their ability to actually connect in a social and emotional way with the problem they’re trying to solve.

I would encourage anyone who is setting up a makerspace not to fall into the trap of just developing a room and then having it collect dust because you don’t know what to do with it. Ground your makerspace in a curriculum, with a foundation for students to learn and grow, and for teachers to be able to actually use this space in the most authentic and relevant way.

Paula Love: STEM is taking a front-row seat on the national level. This is going to eventually roll down to the state and local level. In late September President Trump signed a new memorandum intending to increase access to STEM and computer science education across the country. Following that announcement, a collective group of companies including Amazon, Facebook and others pledged to support computer science instruction through $300 million in grants.

There are some real actionable funding streams that you can follow right now that will help bring some of your projects to fruition: Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, the Carl Perkins grant, the CTE Makeover Challenge, the Education Innovation & Research Grant, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers—and don’t forget funding in the form of bonds and facility grants, because those also can support your efforts to build makerspaces in your schools.

Another important resource for funding is state workforce initiatives, and yet another is the National Science Foundation. The Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers encourages and engages students in STEM career pathways, and the Computer Science for All program and Cyberlearning for Work at the Human-Technology Frontier create opportunities for students, teachers and workers to come together. And NASA has a great number of educational opportunities, contests and resources for classroom sets of activities.

In addition to all of those, private funders are excited to support STEM, such as Fiat Chrysler Automotive, and the National Math and Science Initiative with support from donors such as Exxon-Mobile, the Gates Foundation and Dell. Code.org is increasing participation in computer science by women and underrepresented minorities. The IEEE Foundation is known for its work in robotics competitions, and Toshiba America Foundation offers many grants to support teachers. Northrup Grumman operates a STEM Academy for middle school teachers in conjunction with the National Science Teachers Association.

We offer a free resource called GrantsAlert.com, which tracks grants for teachers and schools.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: www.districtadministration.com/ws101717