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STEM Grant

Longwood Cultivates and Nurtures an Interest in STEM Among K-3

Have you ever stopped to consider why your toothbrush is designed the way it is or how water gets up the faucet and into your sink each day?

Well, thanks to a U.S. Department of Education grant awarded to Longwood University's Institute for Teaching through Technology and Innovative Practices (ITTIP), children across Southside Virginia schools are now being inspired to do so.

A recent assessment of students from 65 nations showed that the United States is lagging far behind other countries when it comes to math, where the United States ranks 23rd internationally, and science, 21st. Because students tend to lose interest in these subjects by middle school and high school, it's important to cultivate an interest early on. While most programs in STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - focus on older students, Longwood's program aims to inspire children as young as kindergarten through third grade to think about how these subjects play a role in their everyday lives.

The process starts with their teachers, many of whom are unfamiliar with teaching technology and engineering. Thanks to the grant, ITTIP has trained 28 teachers from eight different schools how to focus more on engineering in the classroom. The program, called Engineering Everywhere, encourages teachers to relate engineering to everyday examples - from magnets to school buses to animal habitats. They also teach the students that redesign isn't failure - it's OK not to get it right the first time.

"Just watching the students is such a pleasure - they are so excited when they complete these activities," said Paula Klonowski, a STEM learning specialist and former middle-school science teacher, adding that teachers can cultivate a "lifelong passion" for STEM topics by introducing them to children at a young age. "Success in this effort is imperative for making the United States more competitive in the future," she said.

The newly trained teachers will be coming to Longwood soon to present their STEM-incorporated lesson plans and share what they've learned with the College of Education and Human Services professors and students, ensuring that the next generation of teachers will use these lessons as well.

To date, 400-500 students have been touched by the program, which is a partnership of Longwood University, the Danville Science Center, the Science Museum of Virginia and ODU's electrical engineering department of the Frank Batten College of Engineering. While the grant ends in September 2012, the team from ITTIP plans to apply for a K-12 STEM grant next.

"The push for STEM is happening everywhere, but we're far from done yet," said Klonowski.

Learn more about The Longwood University Institute for Teaching through Technology and Innovative Practices