Students in some Eastern Oregon schools will soon be thinking outside of the box when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math.
Beginning this academic year in the Wallowa and Ontario school districts, students in grades three through eight will experience a new kind of curriculum that connects each of these subjects to the natural world and its resources.
Making it all possible is the Eastern Oregon STEM Learning Environments partnership – a grant co-written by Karen Patton, superintendent of the Wallowa County ESD, and Donna Rainboth, assistant professor of education at EOU.
The grant supports the goal of increasing knowledge of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) among teachers and students, and is one of just four Math/Science Partnership grants to be funded by the Oregon Department of Education this year.
Working together, the Wallowa ESD and EOU will develop and facilitate STEM professional development over the life of the two-year grant. Up to 30 teachers in the Wallowa and Ontario districts have an opportunity to be involved in a series of workshops showing them how to implement hands-on study units in their classrooms. The first workshop will be held at EOU this fall.
The belief that a better grasp of the concepts of STEM can be achieved when observing practical applications led to additional collaborations with Anderson Perry and Associates, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Regional Solutions Center, and the International Society for Technology in Education.
“Not only will students understand STEM, they will also learn about career paths in all of these areas,” Rainboth said.
As an example, Rainboth explained how students would see engineering in action with a unit focused on wastewater that also integrates science, math and technology.
“Teachers could invite an engineer to talk with their students about building a water treatment plant, followed by a field trip to a local facility and culminating in the class actually designing their own water filtration system,” Rainboth said.
Other sections may include weather, irrigation and soil, pollination and farming, timber and fisheries or other economic drivers.
“We want teachers and kids to understand the natural resources that are available to them in their own communities,” Rainboth said. “We’ll help develop interdisciplinary units that are relevant to local needs and ultimately have more meaning for students.”
Assisting with developing different areas of the curriculum are EOU faculty Miriam Munck, professor of education, Anna Cavinato, professor of chemistry, Amy Yielding, assistant professor of mathematics, and Michael Jaeger, professor of education and coordinator of the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission certification.
“STEM education is one of the our state’s highest priorities in terms of shaping university graduates to meet the current and emerging needs of Oregon’s employers across the state,” said Stephen Adkison, EOU provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “This grant underscores the leadership role that our College of Education occupies in educating teachers and providing students rich opportunities for STEM education in K-20 across the rural regions of Oregon. The work that Donna and Karen are doing is a model of collaboration between school districts and universities.”
This isn’t the first time EOU has partnered with the Wallowa ESD on a successful Math/Science Partnership Grant. Two previous projects, GO Math and Science Discoveries, provided similar professional development opportunities for teachers in several rural Oregon school districts.
Another award Rainboth helped secure this year is a University/School Partnership grant that will fund Embedding Engineering Design in Standards and involve teachers from La Grande, Hermiston, Milton-Freewater and Umatilla. It is also one of four such grants funded in 2012.
Teachers participating in both the Eastern Oregon STEM Learning Environments partnership and Embedding Engineering Design in Standards are invited to attend Inquiry Outside the Cube, a mini-conference at the La Grande Middle School this fall. For more information contact Patton at 541-426-4997 or Rainboth at 541-962-3720