The Sign of "Thinks" To Come
Unemployment down to 5.3 percent. Job growth of 17 percent. Average annual wages approaching $78,000.
No, those numbers aren’t from the distant past or far-off future. They are recent figures or forecasts for professions in science, technology, engineering, and math or “STEM.”
“Most of the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs require proficiency in STEM disciplines,” says Teri A. Hansen, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, Fla. “But our region and our state are not preparing our children for tomorrow’s job market—or today’s, for that matter. Gulf Coast has partnered with two local school districts to do something about it.”
That partnership is a five-year, $2.5-million effort funded by Gulf Coast to jump-start STEM education at area secondary schools. It is transforming teaching in science and math classes while engaging the entire community in creating a courageous new curriculum of hands-on learning that extends far beyond the classroom.
Making the Gulf Coast STEMsmart
The local STEM initiative was inspired by efforts across Florida and the nation to prepare more students for STEM majors and careers. “With the U.S. falling behind many rapidly developing economies in our rate of innovation, it is imperative that we focus on STEM to remain competitive,” says Hansen.
But Gulf Coast has set its STEM agenda apart, starting with the name it coined—STEMsmart. “This isn’t simply about proficiency in science and math,” says Hansen. “It’s about solving big problems, thinking creatively, and using the latest technology in any subject.” STEMsmart students are discovering how science, math, and technology apply in the “real world” through:
• clubs and summer camps where students engineer bridges, study mock crime scenes like real CSIs, and even apply the laws of physics to theme-park rides
• internships and job shadowing at area employers like Venice Regional Medical Center and the North Port Police Department
• cutting-edge technology that empowers 12-year-olds to collaborate in the classroom today just like they will in offices and labs tomorrow
While STEMsmart is beginning in eight middle and high schools in Venice, Englewood, and North Port, the initiative’s partners think its successes can spread throughout the Sarasota and Charlotte county school districts. In fact, it’s already happening.
Business partners and individual donors have stepped up to help outfit all 22 middle schools in Sarasota County with the “Classroom of Tomorrow.” These futuristic science classrooms group students into collaborative teams and equip them with tools like touch-screen computers, digital microscopes and balances, and wireless handhelds, all connected to their teacher’s computer.
“It creates an ideal setting for students to do science,” said Dr. Larry Chew, a University of Central Florida aerospace engineering professor who helped train teachers on using the new classrooms. Next, the Classroom of Tomorrow concept will be extended to math classes.
STEMsmart has also put the future into the hands of nearly 2,400 middle and high-school students with 21 classroom sets of TI-Nspire handhelds—the largest deployment of the Texas Instruments technology in the southeastern U.S. “Wireless graphing calculator” doesn’t do justice to these networked devices, which enable teachers to pull photos and real-world applications into their lessons, continually monitor every individual student’s progress, and even turn control of the class over to one student so they can go work one-on-one with another. “The TI-Nspires have changed the way we teach,” said a grateful teacher at a recent STEMsmart open house.
The Next Big Think
Who knew that Venice was home to innovative manufacturers making world-class skimboards, helicopter-suspended camera rigs for Hollywood filmmakers, or life-saving doorlift systems that let soldiers lift a 200-pound hatch on an armored vehicle with a single hand?
The STEMsmart Innovation Awards program sends inquisitive students out into their community to uncover amazing things being created by businesses in their own backyard. The awards are part of the community information campaign launched by Gulf Coast to show the entire community how regional prosperity can stem from this new species of education. At STEMsmart.org, students, teachers, parents, businesses, and philanthropists can learn why they have a stake in boosting the region’s “STEM smarts” and how they can help.
“When our students and teachers see these things in action,” says Hansen, “it shows them that our community believes in STEMsmart and in them.” To learn more about STEMsmart and how it is transforming education on the Gulf Coast of Florida, visit STEMsmart.org.
Questions? Greg Luberecki Director of Marketing and Communications P. 941.486.4608