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STEM Learning Studios Continue to Sprout

The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future is expanding beyond Maryland.

Fifteen schools in Maryland have been involved with a special project from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) to bring STEM education—science, technology, engineering and math—to middle- and high-school students, working in partnership with agencies like the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Starting this fall, similar projects, which help students to make real-world STEM connections, will be available to students in about a dozen New Hampshire schools, and there’s a possibility of projects launching in Oregon, says Jeff Dilks, senior director of the studios.

These “Learning Studios,” which give students the opportunity to participate in hands-on projects that also sometimes include corporate partners, began in the Howard County Public School System in 2009 and have since spread to Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. NCTAF has been researching the benefits of STEM education since the 1990s and decided about four years ago that it was time to demonstrate those benefits in the field.

“We’re trying to connect STEM experts at corporations with schools in a way that’s ongoing, long-lasting, and productive,” Dilks says. “We’re making these real-world connections that will really help students as they move forward and decide what their career will be.”

Each studio includes partner teams of between four and six cross-disciplinary educators and STEM professionals from public- and private-sector organizations.

In Howard County, projects in four high schools and two middle schools have focused on issues around climate change, such as satellite mapping, coastal erosion and watershed impacts. At Centennial High School, for example, science students provided background information on climate change, technology students constructed Flash Web sites, engineering students helped to design and manage the project, and math students plotted data such as global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels.

In Prince George’s County, working with NASA and using Race to the Top funding, students in four high schools and one middle school are examining subjects such as solar energy, local land use, and climate change. At Walker Mill Middle School, students looked at the effects of human activity on water systems, testing the water quality in the Anacostia River through field experiences in water transparency, pH, temperature and electrical conductivity.

This work in STEM education closely parallels that of the Clinton Global Initiative—NCTAF’s president, Tom Carroll, spoke at a Clinton conference in June in Chicago—and Dilks hopes the two organizations will build ties. Among their commonalities are trying to get women and girls more heavily involved in math and science, and leveraging public-private partnerships. “We would love to work with them closely,” Dilks says. “We are working in that same direction.”