News & Media

STEM education continues to grow

02/20/2016 Lancaster Online By LAURA KNOWLES

You never know which students might one day develop the cure for a dreaded illness or engineer an invention that saves time and money.

Within the classrooms of Lancaster County, students in kindergarten through 12th grades are exploring the world through STEM education. These STEM solutions cover the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Coordinating these efforts to focus on scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical education, Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 has developed the STEM Team as part of its instructional services department.

Students like Jenae Logan are benefitting from STEM education, through her school and through encouragement from her parents.

Many times, there is the assumption that girls are not as interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as their male counterparts.

For Logan, that is not the case.

"I want to be an engineer," says the 13-year-old Lancaster student. More specifically, she wants to be an environmental engineer.

Logan became interested in environmental engineering when she visited the Lancaster Science Factory and learned about environmental science. That piqued her curiosity to learn more about finding ways to protect the environment through things like wastewater management and stream water protection.

"It's very important to me, so we will have a safer environment with safe water to drink and clean air to breathe," Logan says.

She represents a growing number of girls who are breaking through the stereotypes of STEM education not being "for girls." It's not just "boys only" territory. Still there are opinions that need to be changed, so that girls will feel as comfortable as boys to head toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Joey Bertrand, a curriculum and instruction specialist with IU13, says parents and teachers need to foster the natural curiosity that leads to scientific discoveries. Instead of providing answers to questions like, "Why is the sky blue?" or "How do you build a birdhouse that keeps squirrels out?" educators can encourage boys and girls to research answers on their own.

"Girls can be encouraged to do do-it-yourself projects, like fixing things, or playing with STEM-related apps," says Bertrand.

There is no reason why a girl can't build a bookcase, go fishing for trout, program the digital TV or figure out complex math problems.

As Bertrand notes, "STEM education offers equal opportunities for all students to learn about and understand their world, so they can make a difference one day."

At IU13, the innovative solutions for STEM education include a variety of workshops, institutes, grant-funded and professionally sponsored development opportunities for teachers that will increase student learning in STEM subject areas.

STEM education is an intentional, integrative approach to teaching that encourages students to uncover their aptitude for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It's all about engaging teachers and students in collaborative professional learning and networking, to build their own capacity to lead.

The IU13's STEM program begins with early childhood education and elementary education, moving into secondary science, secondary mathematics, technology and engineering education.

Some of the programs offered by the STEM Team include PULSE, a Math/Science Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which supports a three-year professional development program for secondary math and science teachers; STEMathon, a statewide STEM education conference that is held in central Pennsylvania during the summer; and STEM Student Activities that provides a number of STEM-related programs for students, including 24 Math, AP Calculus and Statistics Simulations; and the IU13 STEM Consortium Student Competition.

The STEMathon is the premier statewide conference for all disciplines of STEM education. Attendees from throughout Pennsylvania, as well as surrounding states, participate in conference activities that examine a variety of STEM topics.

It is a collaborative effort among Pennsylvania educational organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Lincoln IU12, Lancaster-Lebanon IU13, Berks County IU14, Capital Area IU15, Central Susquehanna IU16's Center for Schools and Communities, Technology and Engineering Education Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association, Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Elizabethtown College, Lebanon Valley College and Millersville University's College of Education.

There are also STEM camps for students held in Lancaster County, including technology summer camps at Lancaster Country Day School that instruct students in computer programming languages, engineering projects, controlling programming physical hardware and robotics.

The Technology and Engineering Camp at Millersville University is offered by the school’s department of industry and technology and includes projects and hands-on experience in a variety of STEM applications.

A substantial number of programs specifically target minorities, women and other groups that have traditionally been under represented in the sciences.

Biases that may have existed are being overcome by educational approaches that might one day lead to cures for cancer, new energy sources, more viable plant resources, stream water preservation, enhanced technology and mathematical solutions.

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