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"Cooking Up" a STEM Classroom

Tom Zerr has been a STEM teacher for 29 years and hold certifications in science (grades 5-8) and industrial arts (grades 5-12). Tom has taught several teacher education classes for Pittsburgh State University and has presented at NSTA and ITEEA conferences. He teaches at Augusta Middle School in Augusta, Kansas.

October of 2014: Start with an experienced Science and Technology teacher. Ask kids what careers they want. Throw in a pinch of administrative support. Ask a local business if they need local and highly skilled engineers, and show them a plan of action. Find an energetic retired aircraft engineer to serve as a mentor and substitute teacher. Add some academic competitive events. Mix in some students. An easy recipe for success! Sounds like a fairy tale, but this story is just getting started.

Our middle school administration and teachers understood that our students need more than core classes. Each year, informal surveys of 8th graders indicate a third of our students are interested in some form of engineering career. This conversation prompted us to investigate current programs, and one conference really guided us to move forward: the fall 2014 PLTW conference at Wichita State University (WSU).

The conference resulted in the creation of an action plan to start a STEM program at the middle school the next year. In order to get funding to execute the plan, we turned to the sizeable industry presence in Augusta. We took our plan to the largest local business owner. Twenty minutes later, a partnership was formed and the project was underway. Wow! We were a go.

That fall, we offered the PLTW Gateway course Design and Modeling, along with short courses in Lego robotics, electronics, and littleBits kits. The new STEM class began to take shape. It got a real boost when a local retired engineer who was substitute teaching stopped in for a visit. He loved it so much that became a mentor for both students and the teacher. Just having a class wasn’t enough. We also started a TSA chapter to allow students to perform academically, and our group of students has been really excited about competing.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of this guest author.