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AAUW hears about STEM

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By Patricia A. Woodbury
The American Association of University Women, at its September meeting, had the pleasure of learning more about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) from Jacqua Ballas. Ballas is the Science Program Specialist for the Marion County School District. She was a middle and high school teacher for 24 years and in her current position for the past 11 years. Her responsibilities are to work with the teachers on curriculum and implement the Science Fair each year.
STEM education is the intentional integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and their associated practices to create student-centered learning environment in which students investigate and engineer solutions to problems, and construct evidence-based explanations of real-world phenomena with a focus on a student’s social, emotional, physical, and academic needs through shared contributions of schools, families, and community partners.
In the Marion County School District STEM is integrated in all levels. Every elementary school has a STEM lead teacher K-5, who attends meeting to learn activities to share in math and science. In grades 3-5 teachers were trained and used engineering in their activities. South Ocala Elementary School and Dr. N.H. Jones elementary are model STEM schools.
Middle school teachers are integrating STEM activities in the science classes. Students can apply to go to Forest High School for engineering and math programs or the Medical Academy at West Port High School for biotechnology skills.
There are 13 Central Florida counties participating in the STEM Alliance. This alliance consists of a group of business partners that support student and teacher recognition in STEM and provide selected schools with STEM programs. Through community support there are enrichment programs for students to participate in, such as the science fairs, robotics competitions, STEM Con camp and also Tech Trek, which AAUW supports. Ballas updated the members regarding Teagan Voldness, the student from Belleview Middle School that AAUW sent to Tech Trek, that she was also selected to go to the International Science Fair in Pittsburgh.
Ballas is the type of educator who likes to get her audience involved in the subject. She challenged the AAUW members to build a tower, out of the materials she provided, that would support the weight of a stuffed rabbit for 30 seconds. Her goal was to demonstrate how all the principles of STEM can be utilized even in this simple project.
The members worked in small groups calling upon their technology and engineering skills to figure out how to make the materials come together in the form of a tower. They were given a length of tape and had to mathematically determine how to divide the tape in a way that there would be enough to put together the tower. There were many trials and errors in this challenge but at least two towers did pass the test.
Jacqua Ballas is truly a “teacher’s teacher” as she demonstrated her ability to present a concept and put it into action so that the participants could experience the design process. There are career opportunities in the fields of STEM and the schools will need to equip students to take advantage of these opportunities.