APS Supports U of A Plan to Expand Programs

Broadening the Reach of STEM Learning
Posted on 02/20/2019
Image of STEM Learning(Emily Mills for ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

The University of Akron plans to expand access to STEM education for students and teachers in urban school districts with its new Urban STEM Center.

Part of the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education, the center was featured in an open house in the university’s Zook Hall on Tuesday.

“The main goal is to expand access to STEM education to all learners in our urban kind of surroundings but also the inner districts that are around that,” said center co-director Nidaa Makki. “Not all students are getting that access to quality STEM education.”

Makki, whose background is in science and STEM education, said there’s been a push for more STEM education -- short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -- both nationally and at the state level, coming from the current needs of the job market.

The center will have three primary tasks: working with teachers on professional development; research and evaluation; and expanding access to quality K-16 STEM programming, expanding programs that already exist such as Think Tank to Shark Tank, First Lego League and Girls Who Code.

Interim UA President John Green said the faculty-initiated program has a twofold value: helping create broader access to education, jobs and careers in the community and helping the university attract students who want to be teachers and stimulate the faculty.

“When we look across Northeast Ohio, we see that many of the limitations to members of our population are because they weren’t well-educated in science and in mathematics, beginning at elementary and secondary levels,” Green said.

Interim College of Education Dean Jarrod Tudor said the school has received letters of support on the center from Akron Public Schools and the Canton City School District, two of the area’s major urban districts.

Katrina Halasa, science and health learning specialist for K-12 at Akron Public Schools, said the center will help bring people involved in urban STEM education under the same umbrella.

“You can have one person do a great thing, but when it spreads across a district or across a group of people, then you know equity is being addressed,” she said.

The urban center will have a physical space on the fourth floor of Zook Hall, expected to open in about a month, but the focus is more on the work than the space, Makki said.

The center’s team includes co-director Karen Plaster in engineering and math education, Gary Holliday in science education, Kristin Koskey in assessment and evaluation, Lynne Pachnowski in math and computer science education, and I-Chun Tsai in instructional technology.

Tuesday’s open house also included hands-on STEM activities and interactive sessions.

In one room, Chris Wertenberger with the university’s MakerStudio was showing off a 3D printer and how it can be used in classrooms, from models of skulls and hearts to a T. rex to gears and nuts and bolts.

″[Students] can go from just drafting things by hand to now modeling them on the computer and being able to create them physically on a 3D printer within a day versus only being able to draft them up and see them digitally and on pen and paper,” he said.

In another room, three members of Aurora Robotics — Soham Shah, 9; Kavya Shah, 12; and Briana Gamez, 10 — were showing off the robots they’ve built as part of First Lego League.

“It teaches you a lot, and you get to be creative with different technology,” said Soham.

When his sister, Kavya, first started four years ago, she was focused on winning.

“But when I got into it, I realized that it’s more about getting to know each other and helping everyone and making new friends,” she said. “It’s like, winning is an important part of Lego robotics, but having fun and helping others is also a big part of it.”

Upcoming center events include a Code Hopper mini-hackathon for girls in grades 6-12 May 4 at the Akron Art Museum, Math Teachers’ Circle Immersion June 4-6, Think Tank to Shark Tank: Engineering to Entrepreneur Summer Camp July 8-12 and Summer Teacher Institute: Entrepreneurship and STEM Education July 22-26.

For more information on the center, call 330.972.5055, email [email protected]. or visit uakron.edu/education/urban-stem.

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