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Model STEM Projects
An idea and resource guide for putting distance learning tools to work in rural (and urban) school districts
For nearly two decades, we have been talking about the importance of educating and training K-12 students in content and skills in the STEM fields. Students need to be prepared for careers in a work world that will require knowledge and training in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, as well as arts and the humanities. According to the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (2008), the very nature of America’s economy has changed dramatically over the past decade and will continue to do so. In a knowledge-based, innovation-driven era, new kinds of experiences, skills, and abilities will be required for workers and employers to be successful. The new and ever-emerging workplace will continue to demand higher-order technical knowledge, as well as universally necessary skills such as the ability to learn on one’s own; to gather and synthesize information; to work effectively in teams; to solve problems; to communicate through multiple means; and to manage time, money, and responsibilities.
To succeed, schools need to develop dynamic partnerships with professionals in the fields; students need to practice collaborating with role models and building partnerships with peers and from a distance; teachers and administrators need to be committed to supporting the project. The effectiveness of distance learning tools in underwriting and sustaining these collaborations and partnerships has been established through thousands of successful STEM-training projects and programs throughout the U.S. Professional STEM advocacy programs have emerged by the hundreds just in the last five years. The common mission is to help schools bolster STEM education and to increase awareness of STEM careers and their qualifications—to open students’ (and teachers’) eyes to all the new and increasing possibilities. Some partners offer STEM Certification; some raise awareness, provide professional development courses for teachers; some assist schools in fulfilling Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Women in STEM fields model and celebrate and pass their love of science and engineering on to the next generation. All provide a wealth of resources for students and educators.
Two-way, interactive videoconferencing is the number one tool for implementing and fostering these critical partnerships. Virtual collaborations take all forms and are used extensively in collaborative classroom projects, to share classes provided by specialized STEM teachers, and in support of after school STEM projects and STEM clubs.
Rural students need equal access to these opportunities that can only be realized through ownership of up-to-date distance learning technologies. By working collaboratively with professionals, role models, and peers beyond their borders, high-needs students are empowered and have the same prospects as their urban counterparts to:
Learn collaboration and communication skills by sharing STEM project outcomes
Synthesize information in these fields and learn the skills they will need in the world that awaits them after high school, be it vocational training, higher education, entrepreneurship, or all of the above
Develop databases of resources and opportunities for further STEM-based learning
Apply STEM knowledge in meaningful ways
Access meaningful hands-on experiences in collaboration with other students and real-life STEM professionals—build relationships; discover meaning in STEM studies; provide experiential learning beyond classroom walls—practice participatory learning
Access real-life role models in real time
Establish connections to the worldwide STEM community— construct meaningful dialogues
Participate in STEM-specific innovation—preparing innovators, leaders and environmental entrepreneurs of the future
Build skills; learn collaboratively—work effectively in teams and from a distance—problem solve
Become interested in helping to solve global environmental (other) issues by learning to apply STEM-based skills
Develop awareness of others: cultures, communities; people
Establish connections between learning and real-life through project-based learning incorporating meaningful, real-life experiences
Build communication skills and confidence
Participate in relevant, hands-on experiential learning by applying critical thinking/problem-solving skills and build upon (scaffold) innovation
Create partnerships with science centers, libraries, science museums, science/environmental organizations, non-profits, government agencies, online science sites, and private enterprise using interactive video
Teachers also need opportunities to stay abreast of an ever-changing world beyond the classroom. They need embedded and on-going professional development. In a rural, high-needs classroom, distance learning tools provide professional prospects for:
Professional Development resources that are accessible and affordable
New learning models for rural and economically-challenged schools that are learner-centered and technology-driven
Utilizing distance learning communication and collaboration tools to develop project-based STEM programs that are student-driven
They are able to establish and build upon:
Models of hands-on learning networks that apply student knowledge of social networking
STEM-empowered classrooms, networks, and projects
Environmental Learning Clubs/Networks/STEM Clubs/STEM Classrooms (project-based, student-driven learning)
Career internships; learning partnerships with professionals and mentors
Student STEM project teams; project portfolios
Curriculum designed and built around student interests, i.e., making the world a better place
Multi-use virtual environments
Communities of learning for both students and teachers
Global STEMx Education Conference:
Fisher Science Tools:
STEM Innovation Hub:
Girls Who Code:
STEM Resource Group:
Girls and STEM (a Twitter resource page):
KapCC STEM Program:
Committee for the Advancement of STEM Specialty Schools:
WISE Energy Campaign:
Adobe Education Team:
Education for Innovation:
Mind Research Institute:
Northwestern University, Office of STEM Education Partnerships:
Top Secret Science:
Connecting Students to STEM Careers
Connecting Students to STEM Careers
—available through ISTE:
Career Awareness Resources
Bureau of Labor Statistics:
This website for kids provides introductory career information for students in grade 4–8, and has been adapted from their Occupational Outlook Handbook for high school students and adults. They provide graphic portals to career fields organized according to interest, including science and nature. They’ve simplified the language and have included a Teacher Guide.
An ongoing collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor, career information includes job duties and tasks, knowledge base requirements, skill-set requirements, and even interests and work styles. The information gives students a chance to make the connection their interests and what a certain job might really be like. Includes grade level categories, career categories, and links to related resources for parents and classroom teachers.
Engineer Your Life:
This website is a guide to engineering careers for high school girls, providing resources such as role model videos and information for counselors and other advisors. The site is produced in cooperation with the National Academy of Engineering.
Sloan Career Cornerstone Center:
Another career exploration site with a specific focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics, computing, and healthcare. They also provide podcast interviews with professionals your students could watch any time.
NASA has an extensive site for educators. Their career page provides a variety of ways kids can learn about jobs a NASA, meet scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists, astronauts, and astronomers. They offer internships, visiting faculty, profiles of NASA employees, job descriptions at NASA, and career information posters for your classroom. They sort their career content by grade levels.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Education:
Find supplemental materials for science teachers here. Students can explore fields of science; print versions free for classroom teachers, and materials are categorized by grade levels.
American Institute of Biological Sciences:
The Institute is a professional organization for the advancement of biological research and education. The career site is set up with information dialogue explaining how interesting and rewarding a career in this field can be. They answer questions such as, What does a Biologist do? And, How can I Prepare for a Career in Biology? Links from the home page list careers in biology, job openings, professional meetings, and ways that students in K–12 grades can get involved, including student membership, and a Students in Biology Facebook page.
American Mathematical Society:
Everything you ever needed to know or wanted to know if you are interested in mathematics: Mathematical resources, Mathematical Help, clubs and events, online magazines, posters, competitions ad contests, and of course a Careers page.
American Society of Mechanical Engineers—Early Career Center:
Videos, eMentoring, graduate student resources, leadership training, conferences, grant opportunities, white papers, and of course a Career Center. This site would be ideal for high school juniors and seniors entering and engineering program or interested in exploring the field (at any grade level).
The Association of Medical Illustrators:
As you might imagine, this site is graphically exciting and the illustrations even breathtaking. At the toolbar across the top of the page, hover over Medical Illustration and then click on Careers. I tell you this so students don’t miss the front page. They provide detailed information about what a medical illustrator is, what skills they need, what education they need, earning potential, and so on.
The Career Key:
The Career Key site provides a wealth of information about career pathways, exploration activities, and required job skills. The author of the site is a career counselor and is geared to the high school level.
This is a fun site, featuring role models and students, contests, fun facts, links, great achievements, and serious information about different fields of engineering and their requirements. A wonderful career awareness resource: Profiles of Women Engineers.
Vocational Information Center—Computer Science Career Guide:
Here is a seemingly infinite list of Computer Science and Information Technology careers and jobs. Job descriptions are included and companion information such as duties, skills, salaries, and training requirements.
Open Source Teaching Project:
This free program offers a forum where students can interview successful professionals, helping to inspire and inform students at all levels in their education and career decisions. The digital platform is available for K-20 students. They actively recruit people to share life and career experiences using social media tools.
A website sponsored by
there are a wealth of resources here, from articles to job search databases, magazines, and job and career tips. This site alone will open young eyes to all kinds of opportunities in many different worlds.
United States Department of Agriculture
For any students interested in farming or research in related fields, this site is a good place to start. Their “Education and Outreach” page offers plenty of free resources for kids and teachers and parents.
An online warehouse for student projects.
Connect a Million Minds:
In April of 2009, Time Warner Cable, in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the White House announced a groundbreaking business-education partnership to bring S.T.E.M. career and education resources to U.S. school children. The media company committed $100 million cash and in-kind to inspire students to pursue S.T.E.M. careers. The initiative is anchored by a participatory website for students, teachers, partners, and parents.
President Obama, announcing the program in November 2009, called for business and non-profit leaders to participate. “Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in S.T.E.M. achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone.”
In January of 2010, President Obama announced an expansion of the program, called Educate to Innovate, expanding the partnerships of the original program to include Intel’s Science and Math Teachers Initiative, an expansion of the National Math and Science Initiative’s UTeach Program; 75 major public universities; PBS Innovative Educators Challenge, and the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships in Math and Science.
The President said, “I am calling on all 200,000 scientists who work for the federal government to do their part in their communities: to speak to schools, to create hands-on learning opportunities…and to help take that same curiosity in students which perhaps led them to pursue a career in science in the first place.”
Virtual Field Trips
Gone are the days when teachers had to arrange for a substitute, spend several days traveling and racking up expenses for hotel rooms, meals, gas—not to mention childcare on the home front, just to attend a professional development workshop. Real live field trips for students have also been trimmed back drastically with budget cuts and changing priorities.
The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) offers connectivity to a host of content providers (professionals and organizations representing all kinds of fields of study and expertise).
The Mote Marin Laboratory and Aquarium, for example, offers distance learning programs for K–12 students through their SeaTrek program. Students can actually control remotely operated vehicles in the Aquarium’s shark tank during live videoconferences from their own classrooms. Students can learn and explore STEM topics, connect with professionals in these fields, and expand upon their awareness of possible STEM careers via virtual field trips and virtual workshops.
Center for Interactive Learning Consortium (CILC):
CILC is an online databank of more than 200 videoconference content providers including museums, education service centers, digital learning networks, science centers, universities, and individual professional providers and educators. Examples of some of the content providers include:
COSI (Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio)
Columbia Gorge Museum
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Cape May County Park & Zoo
Challenger Learning Center
Alaska Sea Life Center
For an extensive listing of student classes and professional development workshops, sign up for free, and explore the listings on the CILC website:
Science Centers and Online Science Learning Sites—Potential Partnerships for making the STEM career connection—
Following are a handful of examples of the many online resources for educators and students sponsored by local and national professional science organizations and learning centers
This site, sponsored by
National Geographic Magazine
, provides U.S. National Geography Standards and offers a plethora of ideas, tools, and interactive adventures for teachers and students. The site is organized by lesson plans, activities, standards, an atlas, and by geographic searches. Sign up for a free monthly newsletter.
NASA for Educators:
NASA has created a rich online environment, filled with resources and inspiration, for both teachers and students, including
NASA’s Women of STEM.
So many of today’s major technological breakthroughs were born from work done by NASA. Numerous modern innovations—from solar-power electricity generators, ultrasound scanners, and firefighters’ breathing apparatus, to shock-absorbing athletic shoes and Velcro—are owed to the space program. NASA also has a place in education, offering great programs that can be solid alternatives to many of the pricey commercial curriculum supplements. NASA’s website,
, and the resources available there are in the public domain; the materials on the site are free to all. This puts some of the most recent discoveries in science and technology within reach of every educator and their students.
National Science Foundation
Find information here about the
STEM Learning and Research Center:
Cornell University, Department of Astronomy, Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, Education and Public Outreach:
Find them on Twitter or on their website where they welcome teachers by saying that they believe teachers are critical to the development of science literacy…for inspiring students to consider science, technology, and engineering careers. There are a lot of opportunities for educators and for students on this site, including grants and partnerships and contests.
Science and Discovery Center:
This is a regional science center in Central New York offering teacher workshops and student learning modules and plenty of visual inspiration.
Science Learning Centres:
Located in the UK, they have a primary focus on professional development for teachers in both K–12 and beyond including teaching assistant training and training in science education for non-specialists. Find on their website events, courses, resources, partnerships, and learning communities.
National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center:
Sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey, students and teachers interested in careers and related information in the field of climate change will find here priorities for research needs and other critical information. Teachers interested in developing their own expertise in this area to share with the growing numbers of students interested in the topic could start here.
Math and Science Partnership Network: MSPNet:
An online professional learning community, this site was created and is facilitated by the Center for School Reform at TERC; it is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The online community is interactive and project-based for the purpose of sharing an extensive knowledge-base in the areas of math and science education and awareness. They have a library and all kinds of information resources for educators.
Special Programs for Classrooms and Teachers
MIT: Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams
An innovative professional development program for high school science, math, and technology teachers and their students, its goal is to foster inventiveness. Project teams collaborate to identify a problem, research the problem, and then develop a prototype invention as an in-class or extracurricular project in order to solve the problem.
National Audubon Society: Pennies for the Planet
Kids can get involved with conservation by taking part in local conservation action projects, and by collecting and sending in pennies for national and worldwide conservation projects. National Audubon Society staff visit prize-winning schools to help create a program about wildlife and wild places.
Project Planning Resources/Ideas/Examples
Engaging Girls in Science and Technology
Here is a story about students in California connecting with astronomers and astrophysicists in other parts of the world, sparking their awareness and interest in exploring the cosmos.
Fifty partner companies, including iRobot and Google, helped launch this Massachusetts initiative to dispatch scientists and engineers to sixth-grade classrooms around the state. Founders of DIGITS chose sixth-graders based on a belief that by seventh grade, kids are already forming negative attitudes about careers in science and math.
An extensive listing of S.T.E.M-designated careers is available at:
When students research these careers tracks, they can find out what vocations and jobs are that fall under each heading. As a career-awareness activity, perhaps they could locate and interview someone whose job fits into one of these categories. Developing relationships with real adults in actual careers makes learning and goal-setting more authentic for students. These relationships can be as simple as an e-mail interview, a one-time web conference, or as extensive as a year-long mentorship relationship between a student and a professional in a S.T.E.M. field.
Mobile Learning Resources—
200 Good Teaching Ideas for Social Networking
OnlineUniversities.com provided 100 Inspiring Ways to Use Social Media in the Classroom
Emerging EdTech provided 100 Ideas for Teaching with Twitter:
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