New STEM Educational Effort in Illinois
So while I was in an airport bar waiting for one of my cancelled flights, I chatted with the lady on the next bar stool, who turned out to be a teacher working to develop a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-focused K-5 "magnet school" in Champaign, Illinois in cooperation with the University of Illinois.
As this teacher explained it, this school's STEM focus was part of an effort to develop a new, challenging program that would attract white parents and students to a predominantly African-American neighborhood--all part of a desegregation effort in Champaign, as there were several issues in the district, including the fact that black students were the ones being bused to white schools without the reverse taking place.
The curriculum at this teacher's school is project-based, with technology integrated into the classroom, and is something new for a magnet school in Illinois. Apparently there are a few different types of magnet-school curriculum formats, including "microsociety" schools, which focus on political and civic education, and "Primary Years" schools, which emphasize foreign languages and fine arts. These are curriculum development programs provided by corporate entities. There is no magnet school curriculum in Illinois...at least until now. Booker T. Washington (BTW) Elementary is scheduled to open in 2011.
Another point of interest is that the BTW curriculum includes a "women and science" emphasis to bring more girls into the STEM disciplines. This program includes engineering summer camps, scholarships, and after-school programs for girls to educate them on women in STEM and encourage them to follow those examples.
Booker T. Washington promises to be an interesting experiment. Given my interest in using space exploration as a topic for STEM education, I referred the teacher to sites of particular interest to me, including Science Cheerleader, Science for Citizens, NASA's Ares Projects education and outreach materials, and the National Space Society. I'll be interested to see what becomes of this project, and wish them well!