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Bringing STEM to schools

ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum recently received a $140,000 grant to train teachers at five Southern Oregon public schools in innovative STEM and makerspace activities for students.

ScienceWorks was one of seven museums in the U.S. — and the only one on the West Coast — to receive the funds.

The New York Hall of Science and Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the grant to be used for 2019-2020. It’s part of an initiative called Maker/STEM Education Support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Twenty-first century learning centers are defined as facilities that “provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The program’s goal is to “inspire an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the aim of improving retention in STEM disciplines,” according to an Institute of Museum and Library Services news release.

Starting next year, ScienceWorks officials will travel to Evergreen Elementary and Lorna Byrne Middle School in Cave Junction, and Conger, Roosevelt and Mills elementary schools in Klamath Falls to train teachers on classroom and after-school, maker-based activities such as electronics tinkering, repairs and using tools. Educators will receive tool kits, curriculum and training on the activities, which they will then take back to the classroom.

“The kinds of hands-on stuff that we always do at the museum,” said ScienceWorks Director Dan Ruby. “It’s in our museum’s DNA, but we’ll be able to take that brand on the road.”

ScienceWorks will visit the schools during two six-week periods, with the first set to kick off sometime in January, said ScienceWorks Education Coordinator Ash Friend.

“We are 100% excited,” Friend said. “We see students from these schools regularly because they come for field trips, and so we already have a rapport with a lot of them.”

A key activity will involve students keeping journals, or testing electronics notebooks in which they can try out different experiments.

“It’s going to be a really good hands-on tool for them to be constantly in that mindset of thinking like an inventor,” Friend said.

Other activities will include construction of tiny robots and a variety of experiments, including soft circuits made with conductive threads.

“It’ll be a lot of new ways to think about basic things we might have around the house,” Friend said. “And that’s another thing that’s really important to this program — we’re using really accessible materials.”

Started in 2014, the Maker/STEM Education Support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is intended to equip museums and science centers with resources, tools and training they can pass on to teachers, who can then take it back to the classroom.

The program is in line with ScienceWorks’ newest mission statement and philosophy, which says, in part, “inspiring curiosity and creating meaningful science experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

Ruby, facility director since July 2018, has previously said the museum hopes to “fill in the gaps for K-12 education and engage lifelong learners into science.”

In addition, museum officials hope to increase the museum’s geographical reach.

“We always have done hands-on stuff at the museum,” Ruby said. “But we serve a much broader region than that, and it’s sometimes difficult for people to come to us regularly, so to really serve the region that we want to serve in the way that we want to serve, we have to get out to them. So this is a great opportunity for us to do that.”

Nationally, the project’s goal is to train 40 21st century community learning centers across eight states. A survey will assess project outcomes, including “changes in interest, skills and behaviors related to STEM and making among youth participants,” the IMLS news release said.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneJayden Jimenez, 10 Roosevelt Elementary, reacts to a puzzle Tuesday at ScienceWorks in Ashland.