January 5, 2011

Creating a new model for high school STEM education

Learn more about the UW Institute for Science and Mathematics Education at its website.

Rigorous studies in science, technology, engineering and math, with industry mentoring for both students and teachers, and maybe even a longer school year — these are key features of a new five-year, $4.1 million grant for the UWs Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, Bellevue’s Sammamish High School and several partner organizations.

The project is called Reimagining Career and College Readiness: STEM, Rigor, and Equity in a Comprehensive High School, and is being funded by the U.S. Department of Educations Investing in Innovation, or i3, program. The UW institute is teaming with the Bellevue School District, the College Board, the Washington STEM Center and other organizations for the work. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Leading the project will be Andrew Shouse, associate director of the institute. He wrote in a statement about the project that the goal is to help develop “a model of STEM-rich, problem-based curriculum” within the high school that features STEM industry mentoring for students and teachers, and “specific supports for students with disabilities and English language learners.”

He said the project will also involve lengthening the school year for the bottom quartile of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, with an emphasis on strengthening academic and study skills, especially in math, and building rapport among students and teachers. “We will also have a rigorous subject matter component,” he said.

Andrew Shouse

Andrew Shouse

The institutes contributions to the project “will include both program development and empirical research,” Shouse said. In the first years of the grant, the institute will focus on refining curriculum materials and analyzing the mentoring relationships. The focus will shift in later years toward strategies for “disseminating practices and resources throughout the district and beyond.”

Shouse said the project grew from conversations with administrators and teachers at  Sammamish High School “who were interested in finding new ways to reach all students and to retain students in light of declining enrollments.” Historically, he said, students opting out of STEM-related programs leaves teachers “serving the top half in a way that is totally inequitable — so we said, ‘Lets see if we can do something that is both rigorous and which serves all students.”

The first three years of the work will be mostly at Sammamish High School, Shouse said. “Going forward in (years) four to five we will build out to other schools in the district” and the region.

In addition to the $4.1 million in funding, the project will receive $900,000 in private sector matching funds and in-kind support. Other entities supporting the project are the Educational Policy Improvement Center at the University of Oregon, The Boeing Company, The George Lucas Educational Foundation, The Bellevue Schools Foundation, Sammamish Totems Enrichment Programs Supporters and Google.

Of 1,700 proposals to the i3 competition, Reimagining Career and College Readiness is the only award in Washington state, though two College of Education faculty — John Bransford and Nancy Vye — are affiliated with an arts education i3 award in Oregon, Shouse noted.

“Problem-based learning can have a positive impact on student learning … and I have no doubt that we will find higher levels of engagement” among students, he said.

Shouse added, “I think were also going to learn about how the private sector can be a resource for high school education. There are things folks are doing in industry, in the STEM sector, that are of interest and are relevant to youth. Our job is to take that seriously and explore that for student learning.”