New required course for IC school promotes STEM

BY ERIC LIGHTNER | JUNE 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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A new course in the Iowa City Community School District has school officials hopeful about the future of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education.

Northwest Middle School and Southeast Middle School implemented the course last year, and while the mandatory course has only been in the works for one year, many say students have responded well.

"I would say it's gone over well, they really respond to technology in general," said John Reynolds, a teacher at Southeast Junior High.

The course — Gateway to Technology — provides students with hands-on STEM experience through projects, experiments, and lessons.

Kandy Munson, affiliate assistant for Iowa Project Lead The Way, said the Gateway to Technology course is currently operating in 43 different middles schools across Iowa with 16 more schools starting next year. This is the largest jump in the number of schools involved since the programs creation.

"I think what they are finding out is that its good to get kids at a younger age interested," she said.

Tonja Richards, the marketing and communications administrator at Iowa Mathematics & Science Education said the class is beneficial because it reaches out to both males and females at a fairly young age.

"The great thing about Gateway to Technology is that it is a middle school curriculum," she said. "And you're more likely to get more girls engaged in engineering and in the course."

And North Central Junior High officials said they are looking forward to what the course will provide for the school.

"Well I'm pretty excited about the opportunity to do this," Principal Jan Fry said. "We had done some applied theory class but this one has the tie in to the Project Lead The Way program."

Fry said she hopes the new required course will help students in the class better apply their knowledge of STEM subjects and help them develop a better understanding of the math and sciences as a whole.

And Reynolds said the course is already inspiring young students to get involved in STEM.

"I can say that there are a lot of kids that said to me, 'wow maybe I want to be an engineer,'" Reynolds said, referring to the students' reactions after taking the course.

One similar school district in Johnson County said the course has seen steady growth since implemented several years ago.

"Enrollment has increased steadily and we have excellent instructors," said Denise Schares, superintendent for the Clear Creek Amanda Community School District.

Jennifer Kahill, the director of communications at Iowa Project Lead The Way, said the course will prepare students for future STEM-related courses and bridge a learning gap between high school and college.

"And it's all just preparing them for a really strong stem foundation as they go into high school and into college," she said.

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