Air Force Research Lab Fosters America’s Future in 65 Ohio Districts

AmericasFuture

The Air Force Research Laboratory Domestic Partnering Branch (AFRL/ XPPD) has helped create a key science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program for students and teachers in 65 districts in the Dayton, Ohio area.

The Dayton Regional STEM Center is preparing thousands of students for careers that will foster innovation for the future of America.

The Center pulls together scientists, engineers and educators, known as STEM fellows, who meet in small teams twice a month to develop STEM curricula around particular topics. Volunteers from several AFRL directorates participate on these teams and, in some cases, bring their real-world experience to the classroom in helping teach lessons. The Center also develops teaching aids, gaming pieces and STEM videos with the Public Broadcasting System.

Supported by the National Defense Education Program (NDEP), AFRL/ XPPD is responsible for STEM outreach in Ohio. The Center, created in conjunction with industry partners and supported by over 100 industry and university STEM fellows, is AFRL/XPPD’s largest outreach effort.

The program helps children prepare for STEM careers not only by getting them excited about science, but also by providing a realistic component to the teaching. AFRL’s input ensures that the lesson plans fit actual needs and match up with how STEM work is performed.

A crucial piece of this is integrating STEM preparation into students’ everyday learning. As a regular part of the curriculum, the lessons become a consistent and valued element of the standard school day. In this way, the Center encourages STEM learning to become as natural to students as other basic subjects.

“The thing that I think has the biggest impact to our nation’s future is our work in education outreach efforts,” said Joe Sciabica, AFRL’s Executive Director. “Giving kids... the ‘a-ha moment’ where it suddenly clicks is what makes all our efforts worthwhile.”

The Center has delivered 70 lesson plans to over 65 school districts at no cost to educators. These lessons have helped educate 25,000 students in grades K-12.

In addition, the Center also trains teachers for STEM instruction and leadership. More than 500 teachers and 60 school leaders have been trained.

“From being a STEM fellow, I feel I learned how to incorporate engineering design into my classroom,”said Heidi Steinbrink, a science teacher at Oakwood High School in Dayton. “To take those ideas and be able to work with the experts in the field to bring classroom lessons to life has been a remarkable experience.”

AFRL/XPPD measures the Center’s progress through quantitative and qualitative methods. Teachers submit their comments after using the STEM lessons.

In addition to collecting statistics on the number of teachers and students the program reaches, preand post-assessments are used to determine the lessons’ effectiveness. The Center’s successful modules are shared with other NDEP coordinators so the program’s reach can be expanded.

Last year the Center recognized 43 engineers and scientists who volunteered at the STEM Center at a banquet, which celebrated their efforts along with the launch of the Center’s website (www.daytonregionalstemcenter.org).

“We have just seen an explosion in how many of our people want to volunteer and help keep children engaged,” said AFRL/XPPD Chief Ricardo Negron.