STEM Learning in District Schools

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More and more teachers are embracing the concept of STEM learning in district schools.

In an effort to focus on science, technology, engineering and math, Waterloo Community Schools’ are going beyond the latest trend. They have decided to embrace the concept wholeheartedly.

Superintendent Gary Norris said the importance of pushing STEM learning in district schools became “crystal clear” about three years ago.

Waterloo’s high schools had just launched their career interest academies. Students could enroll in one of four or five academies that tailored classes toward groups of career interests.

Core academic subjects would be taught in a way that reflected the career areas and related elective classes would be offered.

STEM Learning in District Schools

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However, enrollment in the Engineering, Technology and Manufacturing academies was among the lightest at East and West high schools, said Norris. Board of Education member Lyle Schmitt raised concerns about that since the Cedar Valley is heavily involved in manufacturing. That spurred Norris to contact the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber, where he learned of work force shortfalls in career areas that align to the academy.

As a result, he said, officials decided it was important to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Waterloo Schools already had a start on that effort.

Officials began talking about having a STEM-focused curriculum in the new building to replace Logan Middle School while construction was underway in 2008. A greenhouse adjacent to science classrooms and funded with the help of the Young Family Foundation in partnership with Iowa State University Extension was included in the school’s plans.

Early the next year, the Board of Education approved naming the middle school George Washington Carver Academy for the pioneering Iowa-educated botanist and inventor, in part because of the planned emphasis on STEM.

The school opened in the fall of 2009 offering hands-on classes in robotics, applied mathematics, mechanical engineering, environmental science and more. It was likely the only Iowa middle school with a STEM focus.

Since then, STEM has garnered interest statewide. The Governor’s STEM Advisory Council was created in 2011 and co-chaired by the University of Northern Iowa’s president.

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