RET Teacher Creates New STEM Curricula for School District

Achievement date: 

A STEM educator at Turrentine Middle School in Burlington, NC created new engineering curricula for 6th, 7th and 8th graders based on two years of participation in the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program at the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems (FREEDM) Center – an NSF-sponsored Engineering Research Center (ERC). Melaine Rickard’s courses attracted interest from educators and media throughout the county; RIckard was honored with the inaugural Alamance-Burlington Schools Excellent Educator Award in February 2013. Both Target and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund have awarded additional grant funding for equipment and field trips supporting the new curricula.

Additional Media:

Melaine Rickard speaks about her FREEDM STEM-inspired curriculum:

“ABSS Excellent Educator Melaine Rickard demonstrates Learning Principle 2” (video) at

New STEM courses featured in the local Burlington Times News newspaper:

“A Leg to Stand on: Students Make Prosthetic Limbs” (news article) at stand-on-students-make-prosthetic-limbs-1.42662




Rickard’s courses were approved by the school district’s Office of Curriculum and complement current science, technology, Common Core mathematics, and national engineering standards. Students at the Title I school can take a three-year course sequence focused on the full engineering design process from project-to-product development. Students learn real-world problem-solving skills and then write, speak, and persuade the public about their products. The goal is to engage students in complex thinking, self-perception and self-evaluation to deepen learning outcomes.


The FREEDM RET program engages middle and high school teachers from partner schools affiliated with NC State, Florida State/Florida A&M, Arizona State, and Missouri University of Science and Technology. Approximately twelve teachers participate each year to experience research in Center labs and write engineering lessons they will incorporate into their classrooms. The teachers have a broad range of teaching assignments, from Algebra II to Technology Education to high school chemistry.

Rickard partnered with FREEDM as an RET teacher for two years and became a precollege staff member in 2012. After she designed her new STEM lesson plans, Rickard wrote a proposal to demonstrate course connections to science, technology, Common Core mathematics, and national engineering standards. She obtained permission to teach the courses from her principal and then had to convince the school district’s Office of Curriculum to approve the new initiative. The new courses were first implemented during the 2012-2013 school year.

Other schools have taken an interest in offering similar electives and Rickard regularly opens her classroom to other teachers in her district who are interested in observing and learning more about teaching STEM. The new energy and electricity lessons implemented by FREEDM’s RET teachers bring engineering into many middle and high school courses across four states. At these 22 partner schools, 58% of students are underrepresented minority students.