Getting children excited about science, technology, engineering and math, STEM subjects, can be a challenge for any teacher. Yet some of the teachers at Frank P. Brown Elementary will have a new tool to ignite their students' interest: the STEMmobile. There will be an open house on Thursday, March 20, from 3 to 6 p.m. for the public to view the STEMmobile.
The STEMmobile is a mobile learning laboratory that provides a unique, on-site educational experience for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school children in 20 Tennessee counties, including Cumberland. This mobile classroom brings much-needed technology to the doorsteps of schools, and the students have access to state-of-the-art equipment to help them to learn about STEM topics in creative and hands-on ways.
"We are very excited and look forward to hosting the STEM Lab. It will provide students with hands-on, real world experiences," said Christie Thompson, principal of Brown Elementary.
The STEMmobile is a one-of-a-kind product of the Oakley STEM Center and Tennessee Technological University as part of the Upper Cumberland Rural STEM Initiative, a grant project funded by Tennessee's First to the Top program. UCRSI is part of the Tennessee STEM Innovative Network, whose mission is to enhance student participation and interest in STEM subjects.
The UCRSI project includes STEM platform schools in Putnam County and a hub school selected by each participating county or school district to become more focused on STEM learning. UCRSI also has a STEM Hub, the Oakley STEM Center at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. The UCRSI Hub represents a partnership between the 21 school districts, three post-secondary institutions and 11 STEM-related or innovative businesses and non-profit organizations committed to supporting STEM education.
UCRSI's goal is to tackle the unique challenges of enhancing STEM education for younger learners in mostly rural areas, and to create innovative and collaborative solutions to these challenges. Some might say doing that requires thinking outside the box. In this case, UCRSI decided the perfect solution was to re-envision what a box could do.
Housed in a 53-foot tractor-trailer with self-contained power, the STEMmobile has its own heating and cooling systern, a satellite uplink for Internet connectivity and workstations to accommodate about 24 students at a time. This classroom on wheels is stocked with equipment from the Oakley STEM Center and includes equipment and supplies for activities for each grade level. The Oakley STEM Center also has a lending library of STEM instructional materials to partially equip the STEMmobile and classroom kits for STEM subjects are on board, ready to go. The trailer will be moved from site to site by Averitt Express. Inc., which is sponsoring a significant portion of the transportation costs for the 2013-'14 school year.
The STEMmobile is designed to help students learn more about three core STEM themes particularly relevant to rural students: water, with a focus on its importance, usage and conservation; energy, which highlights how power is generated, ways to lower consumption, green energy and long-term energy needs; and my food, my body, my health, which helps students learn more about agriculture, health, nutrition and physical fitness.
Several teachers were trained this summer to use the learning studio at the Oakley STEM Center, so they are ready to make the most of the STEMmobile.
"The STEMmobile offers elementary students hands-on experiences that they may not be able to obtain in the regular classroom setting," said Brandi Wilson, HUB teacher for STEMmobile and science teacher for grades 5-6. "It is a great opportunity to foster interest in activities relating to science, math, technology and engineering."
"The STEMmobile is a unique way to get our students excited about science, math, technology and engineering," said Dwayne Davis, HUB teacher for STEMmobile and sixth-grade math teacher. "The experiments that will be conducted by our students will ignite their imaginations by having them solve real world problems."
The moving Iab will spend one week at each of the 20 schools it will visit by the end of the 2013-'14 school year. Moving the unit less often lowers transportation costs and gives more students and teachers a chance to use the STEMmobile.
For more information about the STEMmobile, please go to www.ucrsi.org or call the TTU Oakley STEM Center at (931) 372-6573.