DECATUR — Professors and staff at Heartland Community College were so impressed by Durfee Magnet School’s first presentation at the Students Involved with Technology Conference that they persuaded their friends and colleagues to come to see the second one.
“I was so proud of them,” Rida Ellis, instructional specialist at Durfee, said of the students who gave those presentations.
Durfee’s focus is technology, and the students have individual iPads and classrooms have interactive whiteboards. The conference, for students from third to 12th grade, is different because all sessions are created and presented by the students.
Science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, will provide today’s students with many of the jobs they will someday hold. Even now, many of those jobs are going begging because there aren’t enough people with the knowledge and training to fill them. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 3 million of those jobs have been vacant since February 2011, and almost half of American employers report difficulty filling such jobs.
Educate to Innovate, a push by President Barack Obama to put more emphasis on STEM, began in 2009 and is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and public and private partnerships with Time Warner, The Discover Channel, Sesame Street’s Early STEM Literacy Initiative and several others. The Race to the Top grant program provides a competitive advantage to states that emphasize STEM, too. The initiative includes grants to increase training for teachers.
Efforts in Decatur schools include an infusion of technology into classrooms, family engineering nights with hands-on activities and projects such as the one involving the Durfee students.
Two groups of Durfee students presented at the technology conference. The first group used iMovie to create book trailers, which fifth-grader Xavier Click said are just like movie trailers for books. They chose “The Three Little Pigs.”
“We wanted a generic story that everyone knew,” Jayla Lee said.
Another Durfee group used iMovie to illustrate inferencing, and both practiced by giving their presentations to the Durfee third-graders and asking them for criticism.
“Nice criticism,” Lekiyah Clark said. “Constructive criticism.”
Plans are to give their presentations to students at other Decatur schools and the school board, and to make an appearance at the district’s annual technology conference in April.
“We’ll probably have to use technology in our careers,” said Brionna Tennin. “There are a lot of things you can do with it.”
Preparing just the one lesson in how to use an iPad for the technology conference gave the kids a taste of what teachers do.
“I can just imagine what they go through every day,” Jayla said.
At Holy Family School, the science classes don’t even have textbooks. All the lessons are on their iPads, and a group recently visited the Challenger Learning Center in Bloomington-Normal for a Mission to Mars.
Seventh-grader Peyton Wagner said her group studied rovers and Martian conditions to determine which model would be the most efficient. Other groups compared light sources to see which would work best for studying rocks and soil.
“I got to talk with a real NASA scientist,” said Kallie Berry. “I never thought I’d get a chance to do that.”
Even without regular space missions, NASA has a lot going on, said Holy Family teacher Cinda Farris, and she wanted the students to understand that NASA needs everybody from engineers to scientists to computer experts.
“You don’t have to be an astronaut to work in the space program,” she said.