Last week, 15 Arkansas school districts learned they would receive a nice pot of money - up to $150,000 - to implement a STEM focus in their schools, STEM being an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
First of all, kudos to the state and Gov. Beebe's ingeniously conceived Workforce Cabinet (membered by the heads of the state agencies that deal with educating and training Arkansans) for taking this significant step. And kudos too to all the school districts in Arkansas that took the initiative to apply for these grants.
Schools selected between one of two models: Project Lead the Way includes introductory courses in engineering and the New Tech Network model focuses on project-based learning in all subjects.
Earlier this week, I got to visit Cross County School District, which, along with the Lincoln School District, already initiated the New Tech model in their high schools this year. (They each received $75,000 grants from the state to continue their work in 2012-2013.)
After years of talking about making education relevant for students, it was great to see this principle alive in the classroom. For example, in Cross County High's Biology/Career Communication class, high school sophomores were producing videos to illustrate how cancer cells differ from normal cells. The videos theoretically would be shown to pediatric cancer patients to help them understand their disease.
Though busy at work shooting still photos for use in a stop action video, various students stopped at random were both poised and articulate as they explained not only what they were doing but the biology that they were learning.
Superintendent Matt McClure, who says the engagement of his students has grown exponentially with the new teaching methods, says his school district tried to institute project-based learning on its own a year earlier, but soon realized the help of an organization such as the New Tech High Network was necessary to ensure the program was properly embedded across the curriculum.
No doubt his students are benefitting from the project-based approach. It's good to know that come next year, many more Arkansas students will.