Updated: Next Generation School to pilot elementary STEM program

CHAMPAIGN — Next Generation School in Champaign is one of 44 in the country that will participate in a new pilot program that will teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students in kindergarten through fifth grades.

The school was selected to participate in Project Lead the Way's National Elementary STEM Pilot Program, which has Chris Bronowski, its head of school, feeling "incredibly excited."

"It diversifies (students') experiences in STEM programs," she said, and will especially give them experience working with different types of technology.

"It's important in preparing our students for the global economy," Bronowski said.

Project Lead the Way is a non-profit organization that, until now, provided STEM curricular programs for middle- and high-school students.

Next Generation and the other schools participating in the pilot will test 12 modules for elementary students and provide feedback to Project Lead the Way, so the organization can develop final versions of the lessons.

The final versions will be available for all schools and school districts next school year.

Bronowski said the school started using Project Lead the Way for its middle school students last year after hearing about it and working with its office at the University of Illinois.

"We were so incredibly impressed with the program," she said, including with its teacher training and curriculum. "It really met our students' needs."

The school was hoping Project Lead the Way would come up with an elementary program, she said.

When the school heard about the pilot, it worked with the UI office to go through an application process, and found out it would participate earlier this summer.

Jennifer Cahill, spokeswoman for Project Lead the Way, said the organization has had a STEM program for older students since 1997, and started developing its elementary program in the last year.

The feedback Next Generation and other schools provide will allow the organization to "fine-tune the curriculum, make tweaks and make sure it's the best it can be when we release it to ... any school that's interested."

One module allows for 10 hours of STEM teaching, and teachers can use a module flexibly over several days or weeks.

"Although each module will be targeted to specific grade-level standards, the pilot school may choose to implement the modules as best fits the needs of its students," she said.

Cahill said schools all over the country will participate in the pilot, from the state of Washington to Virginia, Florida to Montana. She said Next Generation is one of just a few private or charter schools participating. The rest are public schools, she said.

Participating in the pilot will give Next Generation students a chance to explore math and science and how it affects "all the things they do on a daily basis."

Research shows that students in second or third grade may decide they don't like or aren't good at math and science.

Project Lead the way's curriculum is designed for "students as young as kindergartners to develop a love for math and science and get excited about those subjects," Cahill said.

"This is a really good opportunity to engage students in the STEM discipline and set them up for success as they move through their education and careers," she said.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):Education, Technology

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