Home » Toyota partners with NKU to support next generation STEM classroom

Toyota partners with NKU to support next generation STEM classroom

$560,000 gift will benefit teachers in nine Kentucky counties

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (Aug. 23, 2013) — When Northern Kentucky University STEM Outreach Director Reeda Hart brought out hissing cockroaches, tuning forks and homemade guitars, teacher Amber Carter knew immediately that the NKU Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics (CINSAM) was onto something. She could tell by the reaction and interest of her fifth grade science class.

[pullquote_right]“Students from across the commonwealth will benefit from this partnership with our Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics, as we work to develop innovative new approaches to science education.”  NKU President Geoffrey Mearns[/pullquote_right]

The Stephens Elementary teacher was part of a pilot program last year designed to help teachers develop more effective methods of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “The CINSAM outreach program is unmatchable,” Carter said.

Teaching science isn’t easy, particularly when your class has students with varied backgrounds and skill levels. But, everything came into focus. “I’ve never, ever seen them engaged like that; they truly began to take ownership of their learning.”

On Friday, Toyota USA Foundation announced a $560,000 investment in the Next Generation STEM Classroom program, which last year worked with elementary and middle school teachers like Carter in eight Kentucky school districts.

The gift will allow CINSAM, NKU’s Program of Distinction, to expand the program to 17 districts, providing evidence-based professional development on the Next Generation Science Standards to 1,100 teachers and administrators, and by extension to at least 26,000 students, through the program. These standards emphasize active learning, which has been shown to be more effective in student learning particularly for those most at risk.

Carter recalled a particularly effective lesson on potential and kinetic energy. Rather than just demonstrating those concepts using a toy race car, as might be typical, Hart had the class build rollercoasters made of tubular pipe insulation. Students were given specific criteria such as including a loop and starting the ride with a hill. They then raced marbles on their tracks while communicating their understanding of how potential and kinetic energy is harnessed by engineers.

“It took such higher-level thinking,” Carter said, “but it came so naturally in how it was presented by the CINSAM program.”

Participating in the program has left a lasting impression at Stephens Elementary, she said. The school has already opened three STEM labs for this year, where students receive engineering lessons twice per week. And the impact extends far beyond the science classroom. “That student-centered focus of giving ownership to the students has carried over across our curriculum,” she said.

“The Toyota USA Foundation has always been an excellent partner of this university,” said NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. “Toyota has always had a strong presence on our campus, providing critical support for our programs and our students. We are pleased that Toyota shares our commitment to STEM education, and we are excited to begin work developing the Next Generation STEM Classroom. Students from across the commonwealth will benefit from this partnership with our Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics, as we work to develop innovative new approaches to science education.”

Said Mike Goss, general manager of external affairs at Toyota’s manufacturing headquarters in nearby Erlanger, Ky. “Since our arrival in Kentucky in 1986, Toyota has made education a primary focus of community support. We have enjoyed a great partnership with our friends at Northern Kentucky University and school districts around the commonwealth.”

Toyota has contributed more than $2 million to NKU through the years, including a $1 million investment in CINSAM in 2002 that helped to create extensive P-12 outreach programs and summer camps. There is a Toyota wing in NKU’s Dorothy Westerman Herrmann Natural Science Center and a Toyota Conference Room in the NKU METS Center. The company has provided support for scholarships, the Center for Applied Informatics and student leadership training.

“Kentucky stands at a crossroads in the education of the next generation of citizens of the commonwealth,” said CINSAM Director John Farrar. “The Next Generation Science Standards are an important scaffold for the improvement of STEM education in our state and country. The Next Generation STEM Classroom project was designed with a focus on collaboration and cooperation to model best practices in STEM education and to train teachers in the application of these techniques. This project would not be possible without the financial support of Toyota and the enthusiastic partnerships with the local school districts, their administrators, and their teachers.”

Last year, the program was piloted in Boone and Kenton counties, allowing teachers from across those counties to observe master teachers such as Hart in an experience called a “fishbowl,” followed by in-depth professional development. The program also had limited implementation in Augusta and Williamstown independent schools as well as Bracken, Pendleton, Grant and Gallatin county schools last year. Consequently, it impacted 188 teachers and more than 6,000 students.

Toyota’s support will allow CINSAM to extend the program to more teachers in more school districts. The program will be expanding to Campbell and Robertson counties as well as Newport, Erlanger/Elsmere, Dayton, Bellevue, Ludlow, Silver Grove and Southgate independents. All districts are transitioning to the full experience fishbowl and professional development. In the expanded service area, 56 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch, 10 percent are underrepresented minorities and 48 percent are female. These professional development opportunities improve teachers’ abilities to increase interest and participation in STEM of underrepresented groups by increasing the relevance of lessons to students’ life experiences and by developing and refining teaching methods to meet the needs of all students.

“A critical factor in Kentucky’s ability to compete for employers today and in the future is our ability to produce skilled STEM workers,” Mearns said. “NKU will play an important role, but we cannot do it alone. We will need the support of partners like Toyota that appreciate the role education plays in Kentucky’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.”