STEM That Matters

         STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is a hot area in K12 education . Schools all over the country are introducing STEM courses, curriculum and programs. Here in the Detroit region, these programs often emphasize cars and manufacturing. Such approaches are valuable. They can introduce students to future career opportunities and get them excited about learning.
         But what about students’ immediate lives and communities? How can we get kids interested in STEM using issues that are affecting them now?
         A high school in Baker, Oregon is answering this question with a STEM-focused course that involves students in community redevelopment.  The course focuses on a contaminated property (an old machine shop) located on school property. This “brownfield” site has become the focus of a multi-year project that leads students through the same process engineers, scientists and policy makers use when working to revitalize such sites.
         The course began by exploring fundamental questions about the community and the impacts of brownfields. The students then investigated soils and water quality, the impacts on human health, and the historical factors affecting the location of contaminated sites. The students presented at the Oregon Brownfields Conference, and are exploring the reclamation process and possible uses for the site.
         The unique course yielded substantive gains in scientific knowledge and its applications in the community. Check out our website for the full report.
         The brownfields course is an example of how to put STEM in the context of students’ communities.  See more examples of this approach.