Once a month, students at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School spend the afternoon working with circuit boards, connectors, computers and all sorts of technology. They are members of a popular club at this Murfreesboro, Tennessee, school: the STEM Club, as in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
The students work in teams—some using gadgets to remotely program laptop computers. Another group is creating three-dimensional images using computer software.
“For me, math and science is something we use in everyday life, basic,” says Vanessa, an 11-year-old student in the club. “If you don’t use it every day you lose it, so I just want to get better at it.”
That’s precisely what teacher David Lockett, who leads this group, wants for all students in Tennessee: an opportunity to engage with STEM not just during extra-curricular activities, but in everyday class work.
“It gives them a different perspective and a different idea of how they can approach a problem” explains Lockett. “They look at the hypothesis and look at the steps and method and have a bigger picture and can intertwine that into their real-world studies.”
Lockett teaches all sixth-grade subjects, but he has always had a passion for science and finds a way to bring STEM into his classes—even English and history. He also directs a statewide STEM camp program to reach students far beyond his classroom, with the help of several universities.
“So students from the neighborhoods and communities can see STEM as I see it. They can see it’s hands on; they can see engineers come in; they can take field trips, they can see the bigger picture.”
Such efforts reflect a growing push in Tennessee to increase STEM instruction for middle school students, especially girls, who are under-represented in STEM professions. A multi-million dollar grant recently awarded to Nashville Public Schools by the Investing in Innovation project of the U.S. Department of Education will fund a program called GROW STEM, which stands for Girls Realizing Opportunities With STEM.
Many teachers, including Lockett, seek unique ways to interest girls in STEM, sometimes recreating the acronym to STEAM.
“… science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. It is combing visual arts and performing arts into the classroom discipline so students can get a better idea of those values and concepts,” says Lockett.
“We want them to see how STEM is a big part of every career so they can see how it’s multi-faceted.”
His hypothesis is working for students like Vanessa. She has decided to become an FBI agent, due in part to the STEM Club.
“I’ve seen in crime shows they use all different types of skills and work on a team,” Vanessa says. “You have to have a science background and medicines and chemicals that they use to see what happened.”