Kansas State Polytechnic and USD 475 have been awarded a more than $160,000 Title II grant that will help 12 schools in Geary County implement adequate technology training for teachers, specifically in computer science and robotics, and increase STEM-related learning opportunities for underrepresented students. The grant, “Enriching and Integrating 21st Century Science and Technology Knowledge and Skills into Today’s Classroom Through Effective Partnerships,” also provides for the purchase of new technology pieces for each classroom, such as a 3-D printer, Osmo kits, a Circuit Playground and Edison robots.
“The primary goal of the grant is to get new technology in both the hands of the teachers and the students through experiential and engaged learning, which is the polytechnic approach that this campus is passionate about,” said Terri Gaeddert, director of academic operations for Kansas State Polytechnic. “We have a rich history that is rooted in technology education, so Kansas State Polytechnic is proud to be collaborating with USD 475 on this vital effort to grow STEM curriculum in the school district’s classrooms and help create a more viable pathway to future STEM careers.”
In June, the two entities kicked off the grant’s agenda with a two-week teacher institute for Geary County educators to learn computer and programming concepts. Kansas State Polytechnic mechanical engineering technology and computer systems technology professors taught sessions that covered the basics of coding, robotic programming, 3-D printer operation and gaming. The 20 participating teachers from the fourth through 12th grades also learned how to effectively use the different technology pieces purchased for their classrooms, and on the last day of the institute, took part in a variety of hands-on aviation, unmanned aircraft systems and robotic demonstrations on campus.
Next, a one-week student camp was offered July 24-28 for those Geary County teachers to practice the skills, new ideas and innovative techniques that were learned in the institute. They created grade-appropriate exercises and curriculum that they taught to 20 USD 475 middle school students. Just like at the teacher institute, on the last day of the camp the students visited Kansas State Polytechnic to tour the technology spaces and participate in applied activities. Conclusions from the student camp will help shape how Geary County teachers build their lesson plans and integrate the new technology education into their classrooms.
Kansas State Polytechnic also will work with Geary County educators four times during the upcoming school year to answer any questions that arise, help them refine their curriculum and provide professional development on evolving technologies. In summer 2018, an additional 20 Geary County educators will take part in a second two-week teacher institute as the final piece of the grant. The 40 total teachers who participate, including library media specialists and technology integration specialists, will then instruct their peers in future years to keep advancing STEM education in USD 475.
“There have been several shifts in the state science standards over the past few years that have directed our focus to making engineering, technology and science applications central elements in the science curriculum,” said Daniel Dinkel, a kindergarten-fifth grade STEM instructional coach for USD 475 and the grant project coordinator. “We believe students best learn science content through engaging in the practices of the subject, and this grant promotes high-quality instruction and enhances the availability of technology needed to do that.”
“The school district has done a great job with previous training and has always encouraged us to focus more on STEM, but sometimes budget constraints have made it challenging,” said Abby Allen, a third-grade teacher at Spring Valley Elementary in Junction City. “Because of this grant, technology is now readily available in our classrooms and our comfort level with integrating new concepts into lesson plans has strengthened. Overall, our ability to teach STEM-related activities has been taken to the next level.”
According to a recent list of the nine most in-demand jobs of 2017 compiled by CareerCast, the need for relevant STEM education is apparent as tech roles make up one-third of the study. Troy Harding, a computer systems technology professor at Kansas State Polytechnic who instructed Geary County educators in the teacher institute, echoes the opportunity for more technology professionals and believes working with grade schools and high schools can help clear the way for more students interested in STEM.
“The United States is facing serious employment challenges in the technology sectors — the demand for computer programmers is very high in nearly every type of market,” Harding said. “Anything we can do to help the next generation get excited and feel confident in solving problems with technology is a win-win. It has become obvious to me after this experience that building K-12 and higher education partnerships will provide a better understanding of the issues we both face. This will help us build a more comprehensive approach to technology education.”