A Hands-On Approach to Learning
BY DIANN NICHOLS
There’s a new buzzword in education. STEM is an integrated curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and is often taught in an interactive environment. Although the United States is a global leader in technology, we are lacking about 600,000 skilled and educated workers needed to fill the estimated 8.65 million STEM-related jobs that will be available by 2018. Having a top-notch workforce pipeline to fill these jobs is vital to our future economic prosperity.
To remedy this situation, the federal government and several businesses have initiated programs to encourage students to pursue STEM-related careers. With STEM programs now available to students from kindergarten through high school, educators hope to fill the void. Historically, many STEM jobs required a college or advanced degree, but by teaching these necessary skills to students at an earlier age, higher education may not be a requirement for some skilled workers to fill these jobs. The integrated and interactive approach to teaching a STEM curriculum guarantees that students will be able to apply what they have learned in real-life situations.
Aledo ISD is taking an active role. As part of the Aledo ISD, Walsh residents will have one of the top school systems in Texas—complete with a STEM curriculum—available to their children. Dr. Derek Citty, superintendent of Aledo ISD, said,
“Aledo ISD recognizes the importance of college-readiness and workforce development programs for our students, including advanced learning in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
This can begin as early as the Kindergarten level, as the district’s afterschool Camp Fire program for elementary students includes a mix of STEM, arts, and physical games. For middle schoolers, Aledo Middle School boasts a Robotics club for students interested in aviation and aerospace. The AMS club attended the 2016 Bell Helicopter STEM Challenge at the Tarrant County College Aviation Center at Alliance Airport where they participated in an aircraft engineering seminar, toured the aviation facility, and competed in a quadcopter drone challenge. The AMS teams placed first and third in the competition. Bell Helicopter recently donated funds to both the Aledo High and Middle Schools to complete supported STEM programs through the Aledo Education Foundation. “Working with Bell Helicopter will elevate the students of Aledo ISD and offer them real-life experiences that are not offered in many districts across the country,” Dr. Citty said.
Other students worked with the tractor tech team at Holt Caterpillar to hone their engineering skills, but the best training for the future always begins with good teachers. The “Educate to Innovate” campaign launched by the federal government in 2009 aims to provide public-private partnership investments of more than $500 million to prepare new and existing teachers to effectively teach a STEM curriculum. These partnerships include Intel’s Science and Math Teachers Initiative and the PBS Innovative Educators Challenge.
NASA has also organized a multi-year “Summer of Innovation” enrichment program that allows teachers and students to work with NASA scientists and engineers on cutting-edge technology. The value of knowledge lies in the ability to use it. The STEM interactive approach gives students not only the opportunity to learn, but also to apply their knowledge. As the famous theoretical physicist and teacher Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” With the advanced STEM curriculum already in place at Aledo ISD, Walsh very well may produce the next Einstein.