By ALAN J. ORTBALS
On March 24, about 300 middle and high school students from across 10 Southern Illinois counties will be presenting their research projects at the annual Science and Engineering Research Challenge at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
SIUE initiated this competition in 1984 to stimulate students’ interest in science and technology while simultaneously promoting the development of the life skills of communication, decision making, evaluation of alternative solutions, and critical thinking. Similar competitions are held all over the state.
“We give awards during the event and we send 30 students to the Illinois State Science Exposition,” said Sharon Locke, an associate professor at SIUE and director of SIUE’s Center for STEM Research, Education, and Outreach. “We also send one, overall winner to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.”
The state exposition is held in April and the national competition is in May. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is the largest pre-college scientific research event in the world and is owned and administered by the Society for Science & the Public, a 501(c) non\profit organization based in Washington, D.C. Each May, more than 1,500 students from roughly 70 countries and territories compete in the fair for scholarships, tuition grants, internships, scientific field trips and the grand prizes.
The university also hosts on-campus workshops for teachers on things like how to incorporate robotics in the classroom or how to design their lessons to meet the new Illinois Learning Standards in Science, which emphasize science and engineering practices such as modeling and computational thinking. And, SIUE works to support teachers from Pre-K through high school to bring hands-on science projects to their classrooms.
“We’re trying to ensure that today’s K-12 students are learning that science isn’t just a list of facts in a book, but that it’s observing, experimenting, problem-solving, and creating new knowledge,” said Locke.
SIUE boasts an on-campus library of curricula, equipment, materials and supplies that any educator in Southwestern Illinois can borrow at no cost.
The lending library is open to anyone, Locke said, including parents, scout groups and community organizations. They lend things like robotics kits, some basic chemicals and microscopes. They have an inflatable planetarium that can hold 50 elementary students that they send out to do planetarium shows at schools. And, they can deliver robotics lessons or lessons on engineering.
“So, if a smaller school or maybe a school in a rural community doesn’t have everything they need, they can borrow from us. They can go to our website, www.siue.edu/stem, and search our inventory to see what we have to offer. The idea is to always be generating excitement about STEM. One thing that we try to focus on is to make sure that we’re reaching all schools including those that have less access.”
Locke said they welcome mentors from business to help showcase different types of careers that are available to students. Many middle and high school students don’t know what it means to be a STEM professional and don’t realize the variety of STEM-related careers they could pursue.
“We would really welcome people who want to share their expertise and talk about their careers with students,” Locke said. “My approach to STEM education is that by partnering with others, you get more done. “I think that the Mannie Jackson Center partnership is a good example of that but there are many others. We have a lot of community partners and we really believe that finding the common goals between different groups and bringing them together in the name of promoting high quality STEM education is the path to success.”