Schools Can Apply for STEM Classroom Grants

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From the Des Moines Register

By Mary Stegmeir

A new state initiative encourages Iowa schools to take science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to the next level.

Starting Monday, districts can apply for grants of up to $50,000 to create STEM schools and classrooms. A total of $151,309 will be available, with funding offered through the Iowa STEM Advisory Council.

Only a limited number of schools will receive financial support, but council leaders hope grant recipients will be able to serve as state models after their launch in fall 2014.

Although initial funding is modest, the group’s goals are not, said Kari Webb, the Northwest Iowa regional manager with the council.

Successful applicants are asked rethink traditional teaching methods, she said. The schools must establish partnerships with local colleges, businesses or other groups. The grant also requires applicants to teach STEM concepts in all subjects and to create opportunities for students to chose their own area of study and tackle projects suited to their interests.

Even the traditional classroom set-up gets an overhaul, with grant funds available for easy-to-move furniture — a must in classrooms where students will frequently work in small groups, Webb said.

“Right now if you want to go look at a STEM school that meets our (grant application) criteria, you pretty much have to go out-of-state,” Webb said. “Our hope is to create some of those model schools right here in Iowa.”

Grant applications are due Aug. 30. Winners will be notified in November. The rest of the 2013-14 school year will be used to design, build and equip the STEM classrooms.

Students will begin to learn using the new model in 2014-15. The council hopes to continue the grant program, which is aimed at schools serving students in grades 6-12, in subsequent years.

Gov. Terry Branstad has pushed for improved STEM education as part of his school-reform efforts. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds co-chairs the state’s STEM Advisory Council, which is providing the funding for the grant program.

Many of Iowa’s largest private-sector employers are in the STEM fields, including Rockwell Collins, John Deere, Principal Financial and Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

The proposed STEM schools and classrooms will help Iowa’s future workforce thrive, Lt. Gov. Reynolds said.

“This is really a way to transform STEM for Iowa students and Iowa schools,” she said. “This is a way for us to get more young people to realize the opportunities that are in the STEM careers.”

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