In classrooms across the region, middle school students are excited about participating in a new project-driven course called STEM Explore, Discover, Apply (STEM EDA). STEM EDA, developed by the Cyber Innovation Center’s National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), engages middle school students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles through a series of hands-on projects. This academic year, NICERC is piloting the curriculum in private, public, and charter schools throughout north Louisiana.
At its core, the STEM EDA curriculum guides students through the experimentation and application of concepts using the engineering design process. This approach allows students to not only improve their problem-solving and critical thinking skills but also develop invaluable competencies in leadership, teambuilding, creativity, and communication. Students begin by exploring STEM concepts (STEM Explore, 6th grade), then transition to discovering fundamental concepts (STEM Discover, 7th grade), followed by the application of the concepts (STEM Apply, 8th grade).
“The STEM EDA program has not only generated excitement, it has also built confidence in my students,” shared Charlene Cooper, a science teacher at T.O. Rusheon Middle School. “They are motivated and engaged in rigorous activities that focus on creativity and higher order thinking skills. Students have less dependence on me as their teacher and have instead found the value of working together as a team. Through testing and evaluating their designs, students are able to learn from mistakes as they redesign and reflect.”Perhaps one of her sixth graders said it best, “I love this class and being an engineer. That’s why I try not to miss a day!”
NICERC’s STEM EDA curriculum covers a variety of projects that are broken into three-week modules. This modular approach provides schools with the ultimate flexibility where teachers can choose from a variety of modules and organize them in a way that best complements topics covered in students’ other classes. Each module offers new challenges for students to research and solve, allowing them to become the project architects, engineers, and even chemists. Whether they are building a protective egg vessel, designing an effective rollercoaster, or replicating a live volcano, students are eager to apply the STEM principles integrated into each module.
Jonathon Ownby, a science teacher at D’Arbonne Woods Charter School, described the changes he has seen in his students since beginning STEM EDA. “There is an energy here that is very contagious. My 6th and 7th graders are motivated, excited, and anxious to come to school and work on [the Egg Drop] module. They have been inspired to do independent research and testing. Students who were unmotivated and uninvolved are now key players in their small groups and have found an interest in academics they didn’t think they had.”
Through the curriculum, students are learning more than just STEM principles. Each module incorporates an essential creative component, allowing students the opportunity to design and build their models, write creative stories, and present their new discoveries. NICERC’s Director of Curriculum, Dr. Krystal Corbett, explained the importance of embedding creativity into each module, “One great thing about STEM EDA is that it allows students to exercise their creativity throughout each project while still learning these necessary STEM concepts. This creativity brings the lessons to life by putting the student in the driver’s seat. By creating their own designs, they’re able to transfer a conceptual idea into a real-life application.”
A 6th grade student at St. John Berchmans Catholic School shared her thoughts after participating in her first module, “I think it was really great because we actually saw how we use science in real life and how we use math and english too. I felt like a mini-engineer!”
For the 2014-2015 school year, NICERC will expand the number of schools offering the STEM EDA curriculum. Leading up to the school year, NICERC will provide professional development training to these new schools and their teachers who will take part in the expanded pilot. To learn more about the STEM EDA curriculum, please click here. If you are interested in implementing the STEM EDA curriculum in to your classroom, please click here.
The STEM EDA curriculum is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Grant Award Number, 2011-PD-127-000002-02.