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November 30, 2010
By John Trent
The gap between United States science and mathematics students and the rest of the world has widened at an alarming rate in recent years. One recent study found that U.S. students rank 29th in the world in science achievement and 35th in math.
As part of a collaborative effort to narrow that gap, the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno has engaged in a number of endeavors this year. On Thursday, Nov. 18, the College of Education organized the University’s first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Open House for northern Nevada educators, calling on the talents of faculty in the Colleges of Science; Engineering; Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR); and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
The goal, according to College of Education Dean Chris Cheney, was to provide an opportunity “where educators can view campus labs and facilities, learn more about field-trip opportunities and ways the University can help, and meet researchers who are making advances in STEM disciplines.”
Cheney said such opportunities will be critical to STEM education in the future. She said STEM education locally received a major shot in the arm over the summer, when the Washoe County School District received federal funding to designate five elementary and middle schools as STEM academies, where STEM fields are integrated through reading, writing, math, science and exploration.
“The schools plan to prepare students in STEM disciplines and excite them through hands-on and project-based learning,” Cheney said.
Thursday’s Open House seemed to accomplish much the same thing.
The excitement factor was high for those who participated in the event, which included lab and self-guided tours at locations such as the College of Engineering’s Center for Earthquake Engineering and Computer Networking Laboratory; the College of Science’s Seismology Laboratory; CABNR’s Greenhouse complex; laboratories in the School of Medicine as well as campus outreach favorites such as the Keck Museum, DeLaMare Library and the Fleischmann Planetarium.
One of the participants in the Open House, Sara Williams, a math teacher at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno, said the real-life applications on the campus were evident, and exciting to experience. The 2004 University of Nevada graduate said it was easy to imagine her students feeling the same strong connection to what the campus has to offer.
“I think it’s very important for the kids’ learning, the depth and knowledge that they don’t have yet (to have STEM opportunities),” Williams said. “We’re teaching at the surface level and we need to teach them why we’re teaching math and how to use it every day.”
Williams added, “Our district has an advanced algebra applications class now, which is basically trying to involve math in more real-life applications. We’re trying to get our students to understand how much they use math in their daily lives, and with an event like this today, I’m going to try to get as much as I can out of it to bring back to my classroom so the kids can understand what the campus has to offer them.”
A personal highlight for Williams was seeing the College of Engineering’s Concrete Canoe, which is created by engineering students and has won national acclaim for its design. The college’s Concrete Canoe team consistently ranks in the top five in the country, and won the national title in 2008.
“I didn’t even know it was concrete,” Williams said. “The work that’s involved with it is pretty interesting. I’d like to know more about the math involved with it.”
Williams said her goal was to take in all she could on Thursday.
“I’m going to try to hit as many as I can,” she said of the day’s schedule. “Honestly, whatever building I find next, I’m going to try whatever’s in there. There are so many interesting things to choose from.”