Science, technology, engineering and math cannot be taught as if they are all distinctly different subjects. They form a common, interconnected realm known as STEM, one that helps students become more critical thinkers and better problem solvers.
The Tampa Bay STEM Network exists as a way to coordinate that education here in Hillsborough County, bringing educators, governments and industry partners together into a common ecosystem. This week, the network will celebrate several major accomplishments that will bring cutting-edge STEM education into even more schools and classrooms.
Code.org recently received $200 million from The White House and $250,000 of it is heading into Hillsborough County schools to promote professional development, supplies and more to expand computer science education at all grade levels. Only about half of the district’s 27 high schools offer Advanced Placement Computer Science, an essential gateway class for learning skills necessary for this high-wage, high-demand career. This money will help expand the class to all high school campuses, plus extend middle school and elementary school coding instruction.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Larry Plank, the district’s director of STEM education. “We’ve been talking about expanding computer science for a while.”
Plank, by the way, was accepted as one of 22 fellows in the inaugural class of LEAD STEM, a new national leadership development experience designed to empower and arm individuals with high level skills to shape the future of STEM education in the United States. He will spend the next nine months in intensive training and education on topics including public policy, fundraising, sustainability, relationship building and leadership.
“In order to be competitive and world leaders in STEM, we need to develop trail blazers who can challenge the status quo and have the respect and influence to affect change,” said Gerald Solomon, executive director of Samueli Foundation, one of LEAD STEM’s primary funding partners.
The Tampa Bay STEM Network was one of only three groups nationally to be represented by multiple partners; Debbi Stone of the Florida Aquarium was also selected.
Plank said a capstone project will focus on “building more capacity for the Tampa Bay STEM Network,” broadening its reach into more schools and its clout in Tallahassee so policymakers have a better understanding of why quality STEM education is essential to the success of the state’s economy.
On Monday, Oct. 16, the first step of the computer science partnership will begin at the Tampa office of tech giant Microsoft. Building a Better Tampa Bay: The 21st Century Digital Learning Taskforce will mark the formal beginning of an effort to, according to Plank, “prepare a platform where computer science education is available to all students regardless of the school they attend, the financial standing of their parents or ethnicity.”
Teachers, administrators and other partners will then gather monthly at “solution labs” aimed at building the best plan for making sure students receive the computer science training they’ll need to be ready for post-secondary education and/or the workforce.
Independent of the Code.org partnership is the creation of two STEM hubs – one in Town ‘n Country and other in New Tampa. The goal of each is to establish first-rate programs that will serve students in grades K-12. STEM education is already happening at all district schools, but this is an opportunity to “make a significant change” that can help “move entire schools” to offer high-impact instruction.
Learn more about Hillsborough County STEM programs at the STEMtastic event on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Florida Aquarium. Free admission and parking.