By: Dani Roth
Winter storm Jonas and the 18 inches of snow that came along with it was no match for those truly dedicated to furthering education initiatives in the STEM disciplines. The Delaware STEM Council hosted the first annual Delaware STEM Symposium and second annual Awards ceremony on January 25 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.
STEM - or science, technology, engineering, and math, is not limited to subjects in curriculums many educators would argue need strengthening, but is instead perhaps a different approach to learning all together. Nationwide efforts are being made to promote STEM education in schools, and Delaware is no exception.
Emphasis in these STEM topics provide students with the problem solving capabilities needed to tackle any challenge in school or life beyond the classroom, according to Executive Director of the Delaware STEM Council, Daniel Suchenski.
“The Delaware STEM Council and symposium are common denominators for STEM across the state,” Suchenski says, “The symposium is meant to bring together components of different groups to make sure that not only they are aware of each other, but that they are familiar with each other and they communicate - that resources are shared, there is cross collaboration, and ideas are exchanged.”
Leaders in STEM attended the symposium from around the country, including those closer by in Baltimore and Washington D.C., to those with a longer trek from upstate New York and Kentucky. Guests were not only educators, but professionals from the business, healthcare, and agricultural sectors among a multitude of others, all dedicated to discussing important academic issues facing students today.
Several sessions were held throughout the day addressing different ways STEM education programs could greatly benefit students and equally importantly, how to incorporate these programs into curriculums. Sessions such as connecting STEM organizations and education professionals, developing STEM programs in schools, promoting STEM literacy and workforce integration, building community learning around STEM, and discussing the future of STEM in the Delaware region were all opportunities for attendees to listen, collaborate, and share ideas regarding the future of STEM education.
The Delaware STEM Awards, which drew in a crowd upwards of 200 people, include a cash prize granted to one elementary, middle, and high school teacher in the Delaware schools. They serve to recognize innovative educators working hard to engage students in STEM related topics and keep them interested. Robert Gibson of Sussex Central High School in Georgetown, DE is the first place winner in the high school division this year and was the second place winner of last year’s awards. Travis Bower, an educator and STEM teacher of Selbyville Middle School won first place in the middle school division.
A computer science pathway instructor in a vo-tech school, Gibson explains that problem solving and determining the steps to do so are concepts inherent in STEM. “The idea behind what we’re doing here with STEM is that those same principles permeate all classes. Students in my pathway will learn all of the concepts and principles that they would use in their math, English, and science classes that all end up connecting at some point” he says.
That is one of the major objectives of the STEM Council. “We try to encourage not only of growth of innovation in teaching, but also the dissemination of existing ideas that are outside the box that have worked,” says Suchenski.
Companies such as Stratasys and Amtek have teamed up in order to advance STEM goals in the classroom and community. Sig Behrens the General Manager of Stratasys, the world’s leader in 3-D printing, understands the need for hands-on learning and involvement. He says, “After 2 weeks we remember 10% of what we read and 20% of what we see and read, but we remember 90% of what we do. That is the argument for hands-on project based learning and making learning more interesting and fun.”
The focus on student interaction and learning in the classroom is another major goal of the Delaware STEM Council, as they hope to connect with students at an early age. Delaware STEM predicts these connections will foster interest in STEM disciplines, as well as attract and maintain more females and minority students in the programs. They hope for the continued prosperity of STEM initiatives in this region.
Gibson explains that in order to increase engagement it is intrinsic to students in any class to ask themselves, “ ’What does this mean to me? How does this affect me?’ And, ‘What do I need to get out of this?’ STEM provides a lot of those answers.”