Rural Communities STEM Initiative Kicks Off Teacher Training for “Lab-in-a-Box” Program

Science and math teachers from nine rural East Tennessee school districts will have access to a new, innovative “Lab-in-a-Box” teaching tool for their classrooms this school year, thanks to the Rural Communities STEM Initiative.

RCSI_LogoScience and math teachers from nine rural East Tennessee school districts will have access to a new, innovative “Lab-in-a-Box” teaching tool for their classrooms this school year, thanks to the Rural Communities STEM Initiative, or RCSI.

RSCI is an Oak Ridge business-education partnership working with middle school teachers to improve students’ science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, based on the new statewide math and science curriculum.

Teacher training took place July 28-29, 2011, at Oak Ridge Associated Universities to help teachers understand all the “Lab-in-a-Box” components and how to engage students best in the learning process.

In partnership with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Roane State Community College has built seven “Lab-In-A-Box” activities that provide resources, lesson plans and training on how to use the Lab-in-a- Box for middle school math and science teachers.

Participating schools in the RCSI project include the county school districts of Anderson, Campbell, Loudon, Morgan, Roane and Scott counties and the separate school districts of Lenoir City, Oneida and Clinton.

While the initiative is a long-term effort aimed at serving students in all grade levels, K-12, with a variety of activities, RCSI’s leadership has decided to initially conduct a pilot test for school year 2011- 2012 targeted at the middle school math and science curriculum in schools selected, based on collective feedback from school directors and superintendents.

“We are thrilled by the initial feedback and the input we’ve gathered from teachers in this week’s RCSI Lab-in-a-Box training,” said Gary Goff, president of Roane State Community College and a RCSI cofounder with Barry Stephenson of Oak Ridge-based Materials and Chemistry Laboratory, Inc.

“Among our goals for RCSI is to make an immediate connection with students,” Goff said. “We want to help students see how science, technology, engineering and math-related academic material has absolute relevance to their lives, to their job prospects and to their decision-making about continuing their education after high school,” Goff said.

In addition to the Lab-in-a-Box kits, RCSI outreach efforts include coordinating school activities in conjunction with National Engineers Week, which takes place each February, and providing to schools guest speakers from area companies that have a need for graduates with strong STEM-related academic training.

According to Goff, Roane State Foundation has raised $65,000 to fund the Lab-in-a-Box kits, which cost on average about $7,500 and last one academic year for approximately 75-80 students. About $600 worth of materials included in the kits are “consumable” and need to be replaced each school year – which means the majority of the kit is still usable for a classroom year-after-year and continues providing
educational value.

“We continue to be in fund-raising mode, as we believe these kits and the additional support we’re providing students will be a major opportunity to move the needle on student STEM performance in some of our rural school systems with the greatest needs,” Goff said.

Organizations that support RCSI include the East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC), Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), Roane State Community College and numerous East Tennessee businesses that depend on a STEM-related workforce from rural counties – as well as other businesses that wish to see higher student academic achievement in STEM-related subjects.

Companies and individuals can participate in an Adopt-a-Classroom program to deliver the kits to specific classrooms. Tax-deductible corporate and individual donations to help fund RCSI can be made through the Roane State Foundation by calling (865) 882-4507.

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Source: Rural Communities STEM Initiative
Image: Rural Communities STEM Initiative