STEM grant assists with USI, EVSC partnership

Rachel Christian

Outside metropolitan cities and college towns such as Bloomington and West Lafayette, careers in science and technology fields continue to lag throughout Indiana.

A recently approved grant was created to change that.

Careers in science, technology, engineering and math – typically referred to as STEM fields – have boomed in areas like Indianapolis in the last decade, but cities like Evansville have seen only a small increase.

Three USI professors are part of a team that was awarded a $650,000 Math Science Partnership grant to help improve STEM education in grades K through 8 in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation.

Over the next three years, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Rick Hudson, Associate Professor of Mathematics Doris Mohr and Professor of Education Jeff Thomas will conduct summer workshops with EVSC teachers to help improve STEM-based curriculum and learning strategies in both elementary and middle schools.

For most people, learning math in elementary school meant solving problem after problem, but not necessarily understanding the concept, Hudson said.

That’s why the professors plan to stress real-world math reasoning and sense-making during the workshops.

“We want kids to see math from a problem solving perspective, to be able to attach it to something and really understand it,” Hudson said.

For example, one lesson Thomas plans to incorporate will help elementary school children understand ratios.

By measuring their own height and feet, they have to estimate how tall someone with a size 22 shoe might be.

Instead of just learning an equation, the children are taught to rationalize and apply what they’ve learned to a real life problem, Thomas said.

The goal of the program is to develop math and science lessons that help improve student test scores and increase their overall understanding in these areas.

The program will include 14 elementary and middle schools with 60 participating classroom teachers.

The summer workshops will be a mutual learning experience for both the USI faculty and the EVSC teachers, Thomas said.

He said USI education majors will also benefit from the experience.

“Teaching is a very social field, and it’s important to go out there often and find out what kind of problems and difficulties teachers are having,” Thomas said.

By learning what students are struggling with, Thomas and other education professors can pass on more effective methods to current USI students.

The teachers will have a chance to “pilot” the new lessons and learn strategies for elementary students during a STEM camp July 27 to 31.

During the school year, Hudson, Mohr and Thomas will meet with the participating EVSC faculty to see how well the lessons are playing out in the classroom.

USI, EVSC and Butler University partnered with the I-STEM Resource Network at Purdue to receive the grant.

Sophomore biophysics major Matt Becker said math and science have always been his best subjects, but he knows it isn’t that way for everyone.

Becker thought the grant was “money well spent” and said he was glad the professors would be emphasizing reasoning and real world applications.

“Problem solving isn’t something you can really standardize, so a lot of people don’t learn it early on in math,” Becker said. “But I definitely think it’s an important and necessary skill.”