Southern Maryland Schools Boost STEM Programs With Hands-On Experience

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

To answer the age-old question "When am I going to use this?," school systems in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties are working to enrich their science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs by using hands-on teaching, guest speakers and real-world experiments and applications.

Charles is expanding its Gateway to Technology to all middle schools after a successful pilot program last year, school system spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson said. The program is part of the nationally recognized Project Lead the Way curriculum, which supports engineering and science.

"It focuses on showing, rather than telling, students how to use engineering in everyday problems," O'Malley-Simpson said. "They see that because they are applying their skills as they learn them."

Some Charles fourth-graders will take part in Magic Planet, a program that incorporates digital devices, for example a video globe, to teach earth science concepts such as climate and geological history, she said.

Calvert is implementing Project Lead the Way at Calvert and Southern middle schools and Calvert High School, said JoAnn Roberts, science supervisor and STEM coordinator for the school system. Several county middle schools will begin engineering clubs for girls to "help pique their interest in a nontraditional way," Roberts said.

Programs to interest students in a college education will be offered at Calvert and Southern middle schools, creating connections for the students as they move through the system, Roberts said.

Roberts said the system plans to increase professional development, encouraging teachers to participate in internships in STEM-related fields so they will have firsthand experience in those professions to share with students and create collaborations outside the classroom.

"One of the things we are looking at is completely redesigning and adding programs that would better prepare kids for a different kind of workforce and economy that needs different kinds of skills," Roberts said.

Similar to Calvert's feeder programs, St. Mary's STEM Academy -- which is open to elementary and middle school students -- will expand to high school this year, said Linda Musial, STEM supervisor.

Students apply to attend STEM Academy, which has a partnership with the neighboring Patuxent River Naval Air Base. Academy students are transported to Lexington Park Elementary, Spring Ridge Middle and Great Mills High schools. The base also has several programs for Calvert students.

This year's juniors in the STEM program will develop a research topic, which will be part of a summer internship with a mentor. During the summer, the student and mentor will complete an investigation of the research topic to be presented as a senior year project, Musial said.

"It is a combination of all of their STEM years," she said.

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