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STEM learning creating employees for future

5/2/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

AKRON — Leaders in business and education are working together to create a 21st-century generation of employees for the region with help from the Ohio STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Learning Network (OSLN).

According to OSLN - Akron Hub Director Alison White, the Battelle Memorial Institute (a global research and development organization committed to science and technology for the greater good), the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the state of Ohio joined together to create a network for STEM learning, and in 2008 created the OSLN, a privately supported, nonprofit initiative. In 2010, five STEM Innovation hubs were established, including one in Akron, as well as Cleveland, Dayton, Central Ohio and Southeast Ohio, to support STEM schools.

The OSLN’s goals are to develop and connect STEM schools and programs throughout the state; build a research and development network that fuels, captures and spreads the educational innovations of STEM learning into other schools, regions and educational systems; and advance the scalability and sustainability of STEM education, according to White.

White said the organization works with community and business partners to capture and connect the STEM disciplines. The end focus is to create graduates that will be able to fill the high-tech jobs coming in the near future, she added. The effort to fulfill that goal is focused on what students learn, from elementary through colleges and universities.

“OSLN aims to foster connectivity for STEM initiatives to exchange best practices among schools,” said White. “We use ‘platform schools’ and take what is successful there and expand it to others.”

These platform schools include two Akron Public Schools (APS): the National Inventors Hall of Fame® School ... Center for STEM Learning (a middle school) and the National Inventors Hall of Fame® Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics High School, started this year.

APS Curriculum Director Ellen McWilliams said STEM learning in the district is a two-fold effort involving APS and the city of Akron.

“STEM content is important, but more importantly, it’s about problem-based learning, applying the knowledge and working in a team setting,” said McWilliams.

McWilliams said problem-solving, collaboration, communication and creative thinking are just as important as instruction in science, mathematics, engineering and technology.

“These learning strategies are critical and tie into what business advisers are telling us they need,” said McWilliams. “In Akron, it’s about polymers, technology and orthopedic work, and STEM learning is a perfect fit for this. Our graduates will be ready for the job market being grown in the city.”

McWilliams said there is a waiting list for APS’ STEM schools, which use a lottery to admit students.

White added, however, that two workshops, May 7-9 and 14-16, are being used to expand and share best practices in STEM learning for APS STEM school teachers into other schools in the district. There are about 30 APS teachers per session scheduled to participate in the May workshops, which can be used for both graduate and continuing education credits.

“We are growing the capacity to train teachers on problem-based learning and create facilitators to train other teachers in the future,” said White. “We are also trying to grow STEM schools in the region.”

Another STEM workshop is scheduled for June 17-19 for teachers outside of APS. The three-day session costs $475 per educator and includes materials and lunch. Registration in now open. For details, contact White at awhiteua@akron.k12.oh.us.

White said the workshops will focus on problem-based-learning instructional strategies, which she called “one of the critical components of effective STEM schools.”

Other summer workshops on best practices of STEM schools may be offered during the summer, she added.

White said the OSLN is also inviting local businesses to get involved in the STEM learning effort by assessing and sharing their needs for their future work force.

“STEM learning is designed to match student skills with business needs,” she said. “We aim to make education-to-work a more seamless process.”

For additional information about the OSLN, visit www.osln.org.

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