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AZ groups inventing what STEM learning looks like


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Middle School Students In Kyrene Community Education's Minecraft CREATE Cohort Make LittleBits Circuits Light Up, Make Noise And Move Through Actions They Take In The Videogame Minecraft At CREATE At Arizona Science Center On Saturday, May 7, 2016. Photos By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Arizona nonprofits, school districts, education organizations and businesses are putting their heads together to create learning environments for Arizona students where their interest in science, technology, engineering and math will blossom.

Arizona SciTech along with Intel, Arizona Science Center and the Maricopa County Education Service Agency are leading this joint initiative which is part of a STEM Ecosystem, part of the STEM Funders Network.

AZ groups inventing what STEM learning looks like KyreneStudentsLittleBits

Middle school students in students in Kyrene Community Education’s Minecraft CREATE Cohort use littleBits circuits to build a chain reaction machine to roll a ball from one end of a worktable to the other during a session at CREATE at the Arizona Science Center on May, 7, 2016. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and math is something Arizona businesses leaders say is critically important to increasing the number of STEM graduates and boosting the state’s economy.

Sixty-one percent of 400 Arizona CEOs surveyed said increasing the pool of STEM graduates will have a significant positive impact Arizona businesses, according to the Arizona 2016 CEO Outlook, sponsored by Alliance Bank of Arizona.

STEM initiative

AZ groups inventing what STEM learning looks like CanyonRidgeSTEMCommunityOfPracticeTeam

The Canyon Ridge School team from Dysart Unified School District attends the kickoff meeting of the AZ STEM School Community of Practice on May 4, 2016. Photo courtesy Dysart Unified School District

Called the AZ STEM School Community of Practice, this joint initiative is based upon a business strategy where stakeholders work together and share their knowledge for the greater good, according to Dysart Unified School District, which has teams from Canyon Ridge School and Thompson Ranch Elementary participating.

Each school involved creates a team made up of made up of an administrator, two teachers, a parent, a student leader and a community partner.

The teams share information, build relationships and learn from one another to develop innovative solutions to challenges they identify and transform how STEM impacts schools and Arizona’s future workforce.

AZ groups inventing what STEM learning looks like ThompsonRanchCommunityOfPracticeSTEMTeam

The Thompson Ranch Elementary team at the kickoff meeting of the AZ STEM School Community of Practice. Photo courtesy of Dysart Unified School District

“This is the first time that anybody’s done this. I think it’s pretty neat that we’re leading the first STEM School Community of Practice in our state,” said Jeremy Babendure, executive director of Arizona SciTech Festival.

The teams are determining what a STEM school is and what they need in their community, Babendure said.

“They may be saying we want to develop a certain type of curriculum or we may want to have a certain type of maker lab, then they’re going to want to engage specifically with other schools that are in the same type of mindset,” Babendure said.

Instead of deferring to an outside group of experts, “the difference in this model is that we assume that the solutions are already in the room. It’s just a matter of helping them connect with each other to find them,” Babendure said.

Both Thompson Ranch and Canyon Ridge incorporate STEM throughout their schools, and the schools are grateful for community participation in this joint initiative including Surprise City Council Member Skip Hall and El Mirage Council Member David Shapera.

Initially, Babendure said he thought about 20 schools would be involved in the process, but 57 schools brought a team with them to the first meeting in early May.

At that first meeting, the teams determined what resources they’d like to share with the other teams, “what they are hoping to learn from someone else and what they are hoping to share in a future meeting,” Babendure said.

The teams will talk and meet at least four times during the year, and the next meeting will be Sept. 8, Babendure said.