STEM UP report Cydney Snyder

smu23967

This project is important not only because it is a good thing to provide children with education and better possible job opportunities. This project is important because millions of students grow up in rural communities and believe that their community is not “good enough”. In development, growth is seen as an indicator of progress which leads to a lack of understanding of places that choose and rejoice in staying small. When students have to leave their communities in order to find more educational opportunities, they are not taught about subjects that relate to their experiences and their communities. Furthermore, when students leave their communities, they quickly find that people think of small rural communities a lesser. As a result, these students learn to reject small town values and traditions, they deny the good parts of their upbringing, and repress those aspects of their background that make them feel “other”. This camp, and in general the movement of place-based education, can provide students with a new narrative of what it means to be from rural, while also giving them the opportunity to have a more well-rounded and adequate STEM education.

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STEM Up, a Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity Initiative

2019, SMU’s Giving Day project for Hunter & Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering &

Humanity focused on the idea to bring STEM education resources to rural communities.

Born from personal experience, Cydney Snyder researched the potential of creating rural

STEM camps.

In the Summer of 2019, STEM Up took on a different shape. After attempts to connect

with camps in rural communities, it became clear – a growing number of rural teachers did

not have the resources for summer camps.

With this revelation, the Institute partnered with the Caruth Center for Engineering

Education and tested a STEM Up project – Evie-in-a-Box with their summer campers to

test the interest level of the students. It was a huge success. The Institute made a how-to

video and shared it on YouTube with a PDF containing instructions and dimensions for the

project. All supplies are available at a typical hardware store or through Amazon.

Summer camps for 2020 were held virtually due to the global pandemic, Caruth used the

kits for remote camps and truly tested what the concept’s capabilities. Campers reported

the kits being one of the favorite activities.

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STEM Up: STEM FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES

MAKING STEM ACCESSIBLE FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES

BY: SNYDER, CYDNEY

“…the movement of place-based education, can provide students with a new narrative of

what it means to be from rural, while also giving them the opportunity to have a more wellrounded

and adequate STEM education.” – Cydney Snyder

Upon graduation from Southern Methodist University, Ms. Snyder was awarded a

Teaching Fellowship, teaching fifth grade in Kansas City, Missouri

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Table of Contents

BACKGROUND ________________________________________________________ 6

RURAL VS. URBAN _____________________________________________________ 8

AP IN RURAL SCHOOLS _________________________________________________ 9

DEFINITION OF RURAL AND FRINGE RURAL COMMUNITIES ________________________ 12

WHAT IS STEM ______________________________________________________ 14

WHY STEM _________________________________________________________ 15

THE RURAL ROAD TO COLLEGE ___________________________________________ 16

STEM’S IN RURAL LIFE ________________________________________________ 18

CLOSING THE GAP ____________________________________________________ 19

PLACE-BASED _______________________________________________________ 21

OUR PROGRAM ______________________________________________________ 24

GOOD ENOUGH ______________________________________________________ 24

WORKS CITED _______________________________________________________ 26

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Background

In 2015, I graduated from Celina High School, a small public school in rural North

Texas. The class of 2015 was the largest graduating class in the town’s history – just ten

years earlier the number has been 43. Rural is a bit of a tradition in my family - both of my

parents were raised in on farms in rural towns. In 1998 they moved to Allen, Texas, a town

20 minutes north of Dallas with at that time a population of 38,000 people. This town was

much too big for my parents, and so in 2000 when I was 3 years old, we moved to Celina,

Texas. This town had a population of 2,700, no grocery store, and still housed grades

Kindergarten – 12 th grade in one building. As I grew up, so did the town, and by the time I

graduated in 2015 there was a separate building for the high school, middle school and

elementary. I took all four AP classes that my high school offered, I was in the top

5percent of my class, and was involved in a range of activities like raising pigs,

cheerleading, and acting in my school plays.

I was raised to believe that my educational experience was superior to those who

lived in big cities, and I did not realize the opportunities and resources that I lacked until I

began college at Southern Methodist University. Whereas I had to pioneer many

opportunities to become the second person from my high school to attend SMU, many of

my peers had been a part of pipelines that had resources and connections to the

university. SMU was my dream, and one of the best colleges that anyone from Celina had

ever gone to, but for many of my college friends, SMU was their back up. My desire to

help students in rural communities was further kindled as I watched my younger brother –

valedictorian with the highest GPA in my high school’s history, a 35 ACT score, all-state

football player and all-state choir member – get rejected from ten out of the eleven

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colleges that he applied to. I do not look poorly on my educational experience, nor on my

brother’s, and there is nothing “wrong” with growing up in a small, rural community. I was

not disadvantaged because of my location, but because of the lack of connectivity that my

community had to informative resources, and because of the lack of rural specific solutions

that exist in an increasingly competitive college and job market. I chose to focus on rural

communities because I do not believe that rural communities need to grow to become

more like their urban and suburban neighbors, but instead there are rural specific solutions

that maintain the unique perspective that rural students have while connecting them to

better educational opportunities.

In the minds of many people, the idea of a rural community is synonymous with

small towns, and the idea of small towns is, in the minds of some, synonymous to

backwardness and ignorance. While there is research dedicated specifically to rural

communities, the problems that face rural communities are largely forgotten in research.

One of my advisors on this project – a researcher working specifically on the issue of

creating an inclusive economy – mentioned that she had not thought about adding an

aspect about rural communities until this project proposal was brought to her attention.

Rural communities conjure the images of smallness and small populations, but they add

up to include a significant amount of the US population – 1 in 2 public school districts are

considered rural 1 , 1 in 4 public schools are located in a rural area 2 , and 1 in 5 public

1

“Learning and Teaching.” Mark Driscoll | Learning and Teaching, ltd.edc.org/closing-STEM-educationopportunity-gaps-rural.

2

h “Number of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, by School Urban-Centric 12-Category Locale and State

or Jurisdiction: 2013–14.” Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School

Year 2001-2002, E.D. Tab, National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/a.1.a.-2.asp.

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schools students attend a rural school 3 . Even though 1 in 5 students is obviously a large

portion of the population, form 2004 - 2015 the top five ranked research journals

published 64 urban-oriented articles, and 5 rural-oriented articles.

Rural vs. Urban

There are many challenges that rural communities face that are unique specifically

to rural communities. While some schools in urban and suburban schools provide

educational opportunities in STEM by providing after school clubs and programs, schools

and rural communities often cannot provide such resources because they have a problem

recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, particularly teachers that specialize in STEM 4 .

Many rural schools cannot offer the same grade of pay as their suburban and urban

counterparts, and even though the low cost of living makes up for the difference in pay,

many teachers who do not have ties to the community or experience living in rural

communities do not stay long in these small towns 5 . When teachers are recruited for rural

areas, they find that there are not as many opportunities to professional development, and

they feel isolated because they are often the only person teaching their particular subject –

not only in that school, but in their district 6 . For younger teachers who are newer to the

profession, this isolation means a lack of mentorship and support from more seasoned

teachers in their subject. This turnover rate also means that teacher-sponsored clubs – like

3

“Number and Percentage Distribution of Public Schools and Fall Enrollment within School Urban-Centric 12-

Category Locale, by School Size and School Level: 2013–14.” Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary

and Secondary Education: School Year 2001-2002, E.D. Tab, National Center for Education Statistics,

nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/B.1.a.-2.asp.

4

My high school called physics defense against the darks arts, because similar to Hogwarts’s inability to keep a

DADA professor for more than a year, we had a different physics teachers every year for seven years

5

Goodpaster, Kasey P. S., Adedokun, Omolola A., and Weaver, Gabriela C. "Teachers' Perceptions of Rural STEM

Teaching: Implications for Rural Teacher Retention." Rural Educator33, no. 3 (2012): 9-22.

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Goodpaster, Kasey P. S., Adedokun, Omolola A., and Weaver, Gabriela C. "Teachers' Perceptions of Rural STEM

Teaching: Implications for Rural Teacher Retention." Rural Educator33, no. 3 (2012): 9-22.

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obotics club – usually do not have an experienced teacher to help run the club, or the

club has to start over every year with a new advisor.

The small number of teachers for one subject means more difficulties once teachers

are recruited and retained. In the state of Texas there are UIL academic contests for public

schools, and these UIL academic competition provide students with an ability to advance

their knowledge and education in the areas in which they are competing. However, the

organization of these program can be difficult when there is only one teacher who is

charge of multiple teams. The four math-related academic competitions, number sense,

mathematics, calculator applications and accounting, are all unique competitions with very

little overlap in the rules or content. Yet in a small town, one teacher may be assigned to

advise all of the students that are participating in these competitions.

AP in Rural Schools

AP testing is another way that colleges use as an indicator of college readiness, but

only 40 percent of small schools with enrollment with less than 500 students offer AP

courses, whereas 82 percent of schools with enrollments between 500 and 1,119

students offer AP classes. Even when a rural school does offer some AP classes, there are

significantly less than their suburban and urban counterparts. Even just in the realm of

advanced coursework, students in rural communities are less likely than suburban

students to take algebra in the 8 th grade and calculus in high school. High school

enrollment in calculus is an indicator of bachelor’s degree attainment, but students can

only take calculus if they enroll in algebra in the 8 th grade which means there must be a

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pipeline in place to take pre-algebra before that time 7 . If there are a lack of resources that

prevent students as early as middle school from pursuing advancement in math, then the

interest and ability of students to take part in additional STEM education later on will surely

dwindle.

The lack of structure within rural communities means that it is nearly impossible to

create a STEM-specific space within the schools. Therefore, the next best option would be

an after school or summer program that could in itself be STEM only focused area.

However, these summer camps often do not exist within rural communities or even within

an accessible range. For example, the town of Pilot Point, one of the closest STEM related

camps is at SMU-in-Plano, over 30 miles away and a 40-minute drive without traffic. If a

parent were to drive to make two round trips every day to drop off their child, they would

drive almost four hours every day. Lengthy commutes are the realty for most parents and

students looking to enroll their students in a STEM program, and most camps are at least

two hours round trip. Parents could also send their students to an overnight camp, but

these camps are often exponentially more expensive than day camps and are reserved for

older middle school and high school students. Cost is yet another obstacle for rural

students, half of which live in moderate to extreme poverty 8 .

7

Assouline, Susan G., Ihrig, Lori M., and Mahatmya, Duhita. "Closing the Excellence Gap: Investigation of an

Expanded Talent Search Model for Student Selection into an Extracurricular STEM Program in Rural Middle

Schools." Gifted Child Quarterly 61, no. 3 (2017): 250-61.

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"Learning and Teaching." Mark Driscoll | Learning and Teaching. Accessed May 15, 2018.

http://ltd.edc.org/closing-STEM-education-opportunity-gaps-rural.

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All of these obstacles make obtaining a STEM education further than the

foundational one provided in schools almost impossible for rural students. These unique

challenges also mean that the solution is not simply to take a program that has worked in

urban and suburban areas and move it to a rural community. Instead, there must be a

solution that is created specifically for rural communities with the nuances of rural

communities in mind.

The lack of resources and programs for STEM in rural communities is a problem

because students are not receiving the same education as their suburban and urban

peers, and this inequity bleeds into the labor market. In 2018, Axios published a paper

titled “Why rural counties are dying in America” – citing that between 2000 and 2015, a

majority of rural counties saw their populations drop 9 . One reason for this drop-in

population is that many people – particularly young people – are moving out of rural areas

en masse due the lack of job opportunities in these communities. Occupations that rural

workers have historically held, jobs in the agricultural 10 and manufacturing industries, have

all but disappeared. However, not all non-metropolitan communities have lost people.

Areas that attracted high-tech industries were able to retain their populations. This fact is a

good sign there is still hope that rural America will not disappear, but in order to attract

these industries rural communities must have a population that is educated to do these

9

Kight, S. W. (2018, June 20). Why rural counties are dying in America. Retrieved from

https://www.axios.com/the-dying-rural-counties-of-america-0fbcaa2f-dae5-47e3-99f7-

e14693397e2a.html

10

Dimitri, Carolyn, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin. The 20th Century Transformation of

U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy. PDF. United States Department of Agriculture.

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technical jobs. The problem is that students who reside in and attend schools in rural

areas often do not have the opportunity to receive adequate education in STEM fields.

Schools in rural areas face issues such as low teacher retention in STEM subjects, and

lack of AP classes, after-school programs and summer programs– all which are pertinent

in ensuring that students keep and retain an interest in STEM subjects. For one to find

these opportunities they must leave their communities and commute two to four hours

round trip – which means that advancement in STEM knowledge is generally reserved for

more privileged students in rural communities. Additionally, the requirement of travel into

suburban and urban areas to find opportunities for further STEM education sends a

message to students in rural communities that their community is inadequate and that

ultimately real opportunities and advancement can only be found outside of rural/fringe

rural areas. In order for students to receive the STEM education that they need in a way

that maintains the value and dignity of rural communities, STEM education must be

brought to them.

Definition of Rural and Fringe Rural Communities

There is not a straightforward definition as to what constitutes “rural” and in order to

make the distinction between rural, suburban, and rural clearer, I have constructed my

own definition of ruralness using the definitions provided by the U.S. census and the

National Center for Education Statistics as guidelines.

The definition of rural is not simply defined as a town with a particular amount of

people and a certain number of cows. Instead the U.S. census describes a rural area as

“all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area” and states that

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there are two types of urban areas “urbanized areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people;

urban clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people” – and more specifically

“an urban area will comprise a densely settled for of census tracts and/or census blocks

that meet minimum population density requirements, along with adjacent territory

containing non-residential urban land uses as well as territory containing non-residential

urban land uses as well as territory with low population density included to link outlying

densely settled territory with the densely settled core” 11 . Rural settings are then subdivided

by the National Center for Education Statistics as fringe, a “census-defined rural territory

that is less than or equal to 5 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is

less than or equal to 2.5 miles from an urban cluster” and distant, a “census-defined rural

territory that is more than 5 miles but less than or equal to 25 miles from an urbanized

area, as well as a rural territory that is more than 2.5 miles but less than or equal to 10

miles from an urban cluster” 12

These definitions do not entirely explain or clarify what exactly a “rural” community

is. They are included to illustrate that the issue of ruralness is not clear cut – what is

defined as an urban cluster by the census is many times defined a fringe rural area by the

National Center for Education Statistics. Additionally, some schools that are considered

“fringe rural” are small towns that have easy access to large suburbs/urban. The next

pictures illustrate this peculiar issue 13 . Sunnyvale, Texas – town with a population of 5,130

11

Branch, Geographic Products. “2010 Census Urban Area FAQs.” U.S. Trade with Haiti, 1 Sept. 2012,

www.census.gov/geo/reference/ua/uafaq.html.

12

“Rural Education in America - Definitions.” Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary

Education: School Year 2001-2002, E.D. Tab, National Center for Education Statistics,

nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/definitions.asp.

13 Google Search, Google, www.google.com/search?q=google maps&oq=google

maps&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60l3j0l2.1386j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

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people is considered an urban cluster by the U.S. Census and a fringe rural area by the

National Center for Education Statistics. Pilot Point, a town with a population of 3,856 has

the same classifications as Sunnyvale. However, Sunnyvale is only 3.7 miles/ 8 minutes

away from Mesquite, Texas – a city that is classified as a “large suburb” and that has a

population of over 100,000 people. The closest “large suburb” to Pilot Point is Denton,

Texas and is almost 20 miles/30 minutes away. Even though they are classified the same

way by the Census and the National Center for Education Statistics, these two towns have

very different accessibilities to large suburb/urban resources.

Therefore, for the purposes of this paper– which focuses on small communities that

face obstacles – rural communities will be defined as towns that have populations of less

than 10,000 and that are >15 miles away from the nearest “large suburb” – a city with a

population of more than 100,000 people 14 . The use of the word “rural”, instead of calling

towns with these criteria as “small towns”, is important because of the connotation of the

word rural – relating to the countryside – that is pertinent to the solution later provided in

this paper.

What is STEM?

STEM education is an anagram of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It

is commonly defined as “an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous

academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science,

technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between

school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM

14

Under this definition, a town like Sunnyvale would not be considered “rural”. Since a town with the geographic

location of Sunnyvale is out of the scope of this project, it will not put under a specific definition.

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literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy” 15 . When schools refer to

their STEM programs, they are referring to programs focus on the aforementioned areas,

with a focus on providing students skills that are pertinent to STEM but could also be

transferrable to other disciplines.

STEM jobs are jobs that require a working of science, technology, or engineering –

jobs like computer programming, web developer, statistician, actuary, electrical engineer

etc. However, the traditional ideas of what STEM jobs are and what requires STEM

education is evolving in our current society, an issue which will be addressed later.

Why STEM?

Rural communities face a vast number of obstacles in regard to the accessibility to

any educational advancement. Just as there are generally no summer STEM camps in

rural communities, there generally are no fine arts camps, there are generally no books

clubs or ways to advance oneself in the areas of History, or English or social sciences.

These are all arguably equally important subjects compared to STEM. However, this

project focuses solely on creating access to STEM education. This focus is due to the

growing importance of STEM, how STEM relates to rural students in particular, and the

transferability of STEM skills into other disciplines.

In a world that is focused on job opportunities and salaries, STEM is the area to be

in. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2016, STEM occupations are

15

National Science Teachers Association - NSTA. "Books & Resources." NSTA Position Statement: Beyond 2000.

Accessed May 15, 2018. http://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=59305.

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growing at 17percent, while other occupations are growing at 9.8percent 16 . The National

Science Foundation stated “in the 21 st century, scientific and technological innovations

have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both

globalization and a knowledge-based economy. According to Cox Today, 60 percent of

the jobs in the next ten years do not even exist yet, and will be STEM related. To succeed

in this new information based and highly technological society, students need to develop

their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the

past” 17 . However, even though there has been an increase in the need and in importance

of advanced STEM education, only 16 percent of college graduates graduate in a STEM

industry field or subject, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there with be an

estimated 1.2 million job vacancies in these areas by 2018 18 .

The Rural Road to College

Many suburban and urban areas have created multiple solutions in response to the

need for more STEM opportunities for students. There are magnet and charter schools

that are dedicated to STEM education, non-charter high schools have created electives

and course tracts specifically for STEM 19 the Texas UIL has created a statewide robotics

competition for high school and middle schools 20 , and there are over 50 STEM- related

16

Kids, Posted By Engineering For. "Why Is STEM Education So Important?" Engineering For Kids. February 02,

2016. Accessed May 15, 2018. https://www.engineeringforkids.com/about/news/2016/february/why-is-stemeducation-so-important-/.

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Kids, Posted By Engineering For. "Why Is STEM Education So Important?" Engineering For Kids. February 02,

2016. Accessed May 15, 2018. https://www.engineeringforkids.com/about/news/2016/february/why-is-stemeducation-so-important-/.

18

"2018 Summer Camp Guide for the Dallas Metroplex." Dallas Moms Blog. May 10, 2018. Accessed May 15,

2018. https://dallas.citymomsblog.com/2018-summer-camp-guide-dallas-metroplex/#title.

19

"Career & Technical Education / Programs of Study." Young Life / Overview. Accessed May 15, 2018.

https://www.allenisd.org/Page/25541.

20

"UIL Robotics." FIRST in Texas Foundation. Accessed May 15, 2018. http://firstintexas.org/uil/.

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summer camps available in the DFW area. However, most of these opportunities have yet

to reach rural areas. These barriers to entry mean that students from rural communities

who want to go to college to study STEM face more challenges when filling out their

applications for college.

For example, one student from Celina, Texas, applied to all eight ivy league

colleges, Stanford, Vanderbilt University, and Southern Methodist University was asked

“What experiences have you had in engineering/STEM” and “What have you done the past

two summers” 21 in ten out of eleven of the applications. The University of Texas at Austin,

which automatically admits students from public schools who are in the top 7 percent of

their graduating class, however there is not automatic admittance into the Cockrell School

of Engineering. A student must also have either an SAT Math score of 600, and ACT Math

score of 26 or above, AB or BC Calculus Test score of 3 or higher, and IB mathematics

HL or SL Examinations score of 4 or high, or a transcript from a college or university with

credit for a college level Calculus I course with a grade of “C” or better 22 . Even a student

who meets these requirements may not be accepted into the program 23 and most

students need to show a higher than average performance in the areas of math and

science. As the rewards of receiving a degree in STEM continue to grow, more incoming

college students apply to school to be engineers, and the vetting process for those

students is becoming increasing difficult – especially for students in rural communities who

21

This student was my brother

22

"Slurpee Straw Inspires Novel Innovation in Surgical Cleaning Tech." Cockrell School of Engineering. Accessed

May 15, 2018. http://www.engr.utexas.edu/undergraduate/admissions/12-undergraduate/index.php.

23

I have anecdotal evidence of this – the valedictorian of my graduating class was not accepted in the Cockrell

School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

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may take every opportunity in their community and still learn that those opportunities were

not enough to be admitted into university.

STEM in Rural Life

A four-year degree is not a goal or a possibility for everyone, but a better STEM

education is also helpful to students not traveling down the college pipeline. Automation

and innovation have all but eliminated the need for “low-skill” position in the manufacturing

center, and there is an increasing need in traditionally blue-collar jobs for employees with

knowledge in STEM. Increasingly, jobs that have not traditionally been considered as

STEM – such as jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, oil field work, and construction – are

requiring a working knowledge in some aspects of STEM 24 . In the field of manufacturing,

workers now need to know how to use technology such as 3D printing and robotics 25 . As

of 2015, STEM skills were a necessity for 27percent of new agriculture jobs 26 . STEM is no

longer for rocket scientists or researchers in a lab but has real life implications for the

employability and potential quality of life for people from all walks of life.

Even for students who may not pursue a traditional or non-traditional employment

in the area of STEM, STEM education still teaches many incredibly important skills that are

transferrable to other careers path. STEM education often teaches students how to be

innovators and researchers, how to ask questions about processes and how to find

24

"Report: Non-STEM Fields Increasingly Require STEM Skills." U.S. News & World Report. Accessed May 15,

2018. https://www.usnews.com/news/stem-solutions/articles/2015/04/21/national-science-board-report-suggestsnon-stem-fields-now-require-stem-skills.

25

"The Paramount Importance of STEM in Today's Manufacturing World." GPP Manufacturing. Accessed May 15,

2018. https://manufacturing.gppcpa.com/enewsletters/article/the-paramount-importance-of-stem-in-todaysmanufacturing-world/.

26

"STEM Skills a Necessity for 27 Percent of New Agriculture Jobs." U.S. News & World Report. Accessed May

15, 2018. https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/05/11/science-technology-engineering-and-math-skills-anecessity-in-27-percent-of-new-agriculture-jobs.

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unique solutions to complicated problems. STEM is not theoretical, but hands on, and

students are able to see the solutions that came up with either succeed or fail. Additionally,

STEM education provides a basic foundation of knowledge about the world around us,

which is important no matter what field of study or employment one ultimately pursues.

Solutions.

Closing the Gap

There have been several research projects that have focused on closing the STEM

skills gap for students in rural communities. They are important to mention as there are

aspects that I have taken from each to create my own solution, and also because there

are reasons in each that it does not solve the specific issue that I want to address.

As a part of the Rural Communities STEM Initiative (RCSI) nine school districts in

Tennessee were given Lab-in-a-Box kits as a solution to the lack of lab space that many

schools have. Before Lab-in-a-Box, most students learned concepts not through

experiments but through videos. The contents of Lab-in-a-Box were used in classrooms

and geared towards concepts that students needed to know for the Tennessee

Comprehensive Assessment Program. 85 percent of students who participated in this

program scored an 80 percent or higher on the state exams and 80 percent of participants

said they had an increased interest in STEM 27 . While this was an effective solution, it is also

difficult to scale. It works within the educational system and seems to merely be a band

27

Smith, Aaron, Dr. Smith, Newport News, Warwick High School, Christopher Newport University, and Old

Dominion University. "How Rural Schools Can Support Successful STEM Programs." Noodle. Accessed May 15,

2018. https://www.noodle.com/articles/heres-how-these-rural-schools-offer-top-notch-stem-courses151.

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aid to a larger systemic problem. Additionally, the measure of success and the topics of

the Lab-in-a-Box were geared towards state testing.

In Maine, where 61.3 percent of the population lives in rural areas 28 , the Maine

Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) addressed concerns about STEM education

through teacher education and promoting science fairs. MMSA provides extensive

professional development for rural teachers, including a summer institute. This resource is

definitely invaluable for teachers in Maine, but replication would require significantly more

institutes and professional development programs for rural educators. MMSA also

promotes science fairs, which allow students to conduct and create independent

research 29 . Since MMSA is an independent organization, they are able to provide teachers

with the resources that are needed to put project-based learning in the classroom, but

they also work to support students, whose teachers may not have the time or ability to

implement this solution in the classroom, on an individual basis. Therefore, even though

classroom implementation is the ideal situation, students can still receive the education

they need without relying entirely on the school.

The Rural Schools Initiative works to educate students and keep them connected

to their community through their promotion of place-based education – they see

community as a classroom and believe that in order to understand regional and global

challenges, students must first understand their local communities. This organization has

28

https://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/26/business/census-maine-most-rural-state-in-2010-asurban-centers-grow-nationwide/

29

https://www.societyforscience.org/content/ssp-blog/how-did-one-rural-state-triple-its-studentscience-engagement

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created a “Place Network” that they believe “promotes long-term sustainability, innovation,

and the revitalization of rural communities”. They partner with Teton Science Schools,

which provide hands on place-based summer programs. Students who take part in these

camps are able to “conduct field-research projects through hands-on exploration of Grand

Teton and Yellowstone National Park” 30 .

Place-Based

The list of programs and organizations that serve rural schools is not extensive.

Each solution has its strengths and weaknesses, and while they do provide solutions for

the problems in their area, the individual solutions are not easily replicated. Each rural

community faces their own unique challenges, and there is not a one-size fits all model.

Additionally, in a state like Maine – where the majority of the population resides in rural

areas – the state government can provide more attention to and money for programs that

are specific to rural areas. However, only three states – Mississippi, Vermont and Maine -

in 2010 had urban populations shares that were less than 50 percent. State government

aid and specific attention to rural communities may be harder to find in the other 47 states

where the rural population makes up less than half of the population share for the state 31 .

Therefore, an independent program for rural students may be the best way to address the

STEM challenge – not only can we avoid working with underfunded and inefficient state

30

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EzRnBATIe0NaTGThzrMWj7-d0UMF2kkG/view

31

"Story Map Series." Gis. Accessed May 02, 2019. https://gisportal.data.census.gov/arcgis/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=7a41374f6b03456e9d138cb014

711e01.

21


governments, we can circumvent an overburdened school system where implementation

of programs is not guaranteed.

The concept of place-based education also provides a solution that could possibly

be replicated throughout rural communities. As seen in the next section of this paper,

place-based pedagogy is an effective way to teach STEM and is built upon a nonstandardized

model; programs could be built in a way that address the specific

communities that the program is taking place in.

Place-Based Education

Placed-Based Education (PBE) is an educational philosophy that promotes learning

through “participation in service projects for the local school and/or community”. The goals

of PBE are to boost student achievement, “forge strong ties between local and social and

environmental organizations and their constituencies in the schools and community, which

helps to improve quality of life and economic vitality”, and for students to learn through

project-based learning 32 .

In Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, place-based pedagogy has already been used to

solve STEM related issues. The 4H Club at Caldwell Middle School set out to solve the

issue of mosquito control without the use of pesticides, and the middle schoolers that

participated in the program found that one of the best solutions was to breed native

mosquito fish and release them in stagnant waters like ponds, ditches and swimming

pools. The project became interdisciplinary

32

"What Is Place-Based Education?" Promise of Place. Accessed May 02, 2019.

https://promiseofplace.org/what-is-pbe/what-is-place-based-education.

22


“math teacher will chart the numbers of offspring and the time period needed to

repopulate the tanks, science classes will study the fish’s life cycle, and social studies

classes will study the impact on the community’s environment. Some students used their

writing skills to create brochure for distribution to the community, and other students got

public speaking through presentations at other schools in the area” 33

In the essay “How My Schooling Taught Me Contempt for the Earth,” Bill Bigelow

talks about how his traditional school education turned him from a child who loved to be

outside to one who had a disdain for learning about it, “How did our schooling extend or

suppress out naïve earth-knowledge and our love of place? Through silence about the

earth and the native people of Tilbourn… We actively learned to not- think about the earth,

about the place that we were. We could have been anywhere – or nowhere” 34 . When

curriculum mandates that students learn about the world around them through

standardized textbooks and lesson plans, students become disjointed and unconnected

from the world they are supposed to learn about.

Place-Based Education has proven to have a significant positive effect on the

performance of students. The University of Colorado found that students in schools that

integrated place-based learning have seen higher scores in reading, writing, math science

and social studies. They also found that these students have more advanced critical

33

Sobel, David. Place-based Education: Connecting Classroom and Community. PDF. Kohala

Center.

34

Au, Wayne, Bill Bigelow, Tim Swinehart, Annika Butler-Wall, Kim Cosier, Rachel Harper,

Jeff Sapp, Jody Sokolower, and Melissa Bollow Tempel. How My Schooling Taught Me

Contempt for the Earth. Accessed May 02, 2019.

https://www.rethinkingschools.org/articles/how-my-schooling-taught-me-contempt-for-the-earth.

23


thinking skills, more responsible behavior and environmental stewardship, and greater

achievement motivation 35 .

Our Program

After considering all of the previous information, I propose that the most sustainable

and scalable solution is a summer camp for high school students that will utilize placebased

education and teach students about STEM and how STEM relates to their

communities. Due to the nature of place-based education, the curriculum for this camp

would not be perfectly replicable for all communities, but the lesson plans I have included

are adaptable and illustrate how to connect STEM concepts (like hydroponics) to rural

communities.

The program will focus on a hands-on hydroponics project called Evie in the box.

Students will learn about the issue of food deserts in rural communities and will build a

portable hydroponics system. The project focuses on the Science, Engineering and

Technology aspects of STEM, and provides students with the opportunity to create a

hydroponics system that they could continue to experiment with after the camp.

Conclusion

Good Enough

Once, when jokingly describing how one could see cows grazing outside the

window of my US History class, a peer asked me “if you came from a place like that, why

are you normal?” This project is important not only because it is a good thing to provide

35

Student Gains From Place-Based Education. PDF. Colorado: University of Colorado,

December 2010.

24


children with education and better possible job opportunities. This project is important

because millions of students grow up in rural communities and believe that their

community is not “good enough”. In development, growth is seen as an indicator of

progress which leads to a lack of understanding of places that choose and rejoice in

staying small. When students have to leave their communities in order to find more

educational opportunities, they are not taught about subjects that relate to their

experiences and their communities. Furthermore, when students leave their communities,

they quickly find that people think of small rural communities a lesser. As a result, these

students learn to reject small town values and traditions, they deny the good parts of their

upbringing, and repress those aspects of their background that make them feel “other”.

This camp, and in general the movement of place-based education, can provide students

with a new narrative of what it means to be from rural, while also giving them the

opportunity to have a more well-rounded and adequate STEM education.

25


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30

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