COLUMBUS — STEM is going on the road in Columbus in the coming months.
STEM on the Go, a mobile learning lab hitched to the new Columbus High School STEM Academy that opened last spring, is a pilot program aiming to connect younger students with the opportunities available in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The goal is to advance STEM education by integrating its concepts and careers into academics at all levels, including elementary and middle school grades in addition to the new high school along 33rd Avenue and Lost Creek Parkway.
“Our target audience with the mobile learning lab is to expose students from grades three through eight to quality, hands-on activities and experiences,” said Heidi Elliott, STEM career coordinator for Columbus Public Schools.
CPS and Central Community College-Columbus are using a three-year, $90,000 grant from the Hubbard Foundation of Omaha for the STEM outreach effort. The Columbus Area Future Fund gave a one-year matching gift of $30,000.
Elliott, a former engineer and math and science teacher in Texas, led more than a dozen CPS elementary and middle school teachers on their first training session Friday with a goal of developing practical, engaging lesson plans for the months ahead.
The group visited Blazer Manufacturing Co. to get a look at the operations of the manufacturer of athletic equipment and custom fabrication products. They attended a lunch-and-learn event later with representatives of Behlen Mfg. Co., BD Medical and Archer Daniels Midland, local industrial leaders that have strongly supported STEM education.
The teachers learned the histories of those manufacturers and information about their operations and needs for skilled workers that will be valuable in creating lesson plans for the 20-foot trailer that houses the mobile lab.
“The teachers are very excited to get their lesson plans in math, science and English ready to go,” Elliott said.
Elliott wants the teachers to know the relevance of what they’re teaching.
The career coordinator said at some point in their careers, STEM teachers all face the same question from their students: When am I going to use this?
That question, Elliott said, is relevant to students and deserves an answer that is credible and based in the real world.
“If an educator can answer this question, student engagement and learning is enhanced,” she said. "STEM education creates problem-solvers that companies need."
The new Columbus High academy is made up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. The STEM programs include advanced manufacturing designs technology, automotive and auto body technology, construction technology and welding technology.
The mobile lab, which will also include lessons aimed at companies in the fields of agriculture and the environment, will be set up in the district’s elementary and middle school parking lots in 2018, but it won't be confined by that route.
“We’ll have a lot of options,” said Elliott, adding that STEM lessons could shift to school classrooms or company sites.