New STEM Education Project Established
The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Iowa State University (ISU), has established a new education project known as Trinect: Teachers and Engineers Collaborating in STEM Elementary Teacher Preparation (see figure). This project resulted from an October 2014 NSF STEM-C grant to CBiRC's Pre-College Education Program.
Trinect addresses STEM training of elementary school educators in collaboration with ISU’s School of Education and Des Moines Public Schools. The project will enhance STEM education activities by combining the efforts of educators and students at several levels—engineering graduate students, undergraduate elementary education students, elementary school teachers, and elementary school students.
Because of Trinect, student teachers and classroom teachers will gain more knowledge and confidence by collaborating with an engineer on a long-term weekly basis. Elementary students will benefit from more hands-on, minds-on activities that incorporate STEM concepts; they will also have an engineer role model in their classroom every week for a semester. Engineering graduate students will improve their communication skills by working with non-engineering professionals.
Most elementary school teachers receive little or no training in engineering concepts. Trinect provides an environment for ISU engineering graduate students, ISU elementary education undergraduate students, and Des Moines elementary school educators to create more opportunities to include STEM activities into daily curricula.
The three-person team (triad) will meet weekly during a semester in the elementary school teacher’s classroom with the student teacher. This arrangement will strengthen understanding of STEM concepts, especially engineering and math, and provide elementary school students with exposure to more STEM learning experiences plus authentic demonstrations of core STEM concepts. Ten triads will be formed each spring and fall over four years, beginning in Fall 2015.
At its inception, CBiRC established a strong partnership with the Des Moines Public Schools District (DMPSD), the largest in Iowa (30,000 students, 63 schools, 49% underrepresented minority enrollment, and over 60% students receiving free or reduced lunch). CBiRC’s vision was to (1) provide STEM professional development to the DMPSD so science and pre-engineering teachers will think and perform as 21st century scientists and engineers, and (2) produce a diverse set of high school graduates ready to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st century and be more competitive in STEM fields.