Getting Students Interested in Science and Math at Early Age

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CARLISLE, Iowa –STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, has become a popular topic in the education field, and Iowa teachers are shaping future engineers at an early age.

When students step into Jen Williams' classroom, they tackle a specific subject. "I am the STEM teacher for Carlisle Elementary K through 4th grade," she said.

The school uses a program for elementary students called Launch. It's part of the hands on learning STEM based curriculum Project Lead The Way.

During a recent class, the first grade students built a beanstalk. "They're working on changing the structure to meet a certain function. So, I give them a problem, and I follow the engineers design process to come up with a solution to that problem," Williams said.

Several Iowa districts started PLTW at the high school level years ago, but Carlisle implemented it from the elementary up. “We hear that kids decide by 5th grade whether or not they're going to go into any stem careers. If they're even interested in math or interested in science, and then they tune it out if they're not interested at that point," said Williams.

The program is now in Carlisle's elementary, middle and high school buildings. Superintendent Bryce Amos said, "75 percent of jobs need math and science thinking, so when our kids leave after going through our K-12 program, they're going to be prepared to tackle any challenge, any program they want to go into."

Even if these first graders aren't thinking about their future career now, Mrs. Williams hopes she's planting the seeds. "Hopefully they'll get into those career fields that will allow them to succeed," she said.

A grant from the Governor's STEM Advisory Council and the Bemis Company Foundation helped the district pay for materials and teacher training to get the Project Lead the Way program started in the district. Schools can find information about applying for a grant here. The deadline is March 3rd.