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STEM Education Gets Boost at Cullen College

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By: 

Toby Weber

Teachers across the country have access to dozens of new lesson plans and activities thanks to STEM education efforts (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering.

These plans, along with hundreds of others, can be found at www.teachengineering.org, a site run by a collection of universities along with National Science Foundation (NSF) and part of the National Science Digital Library.

The Cullen College-made plans were created by participants in the college’s two primary STEM education programs, both funded by the NSF. Through its Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program, Houston-area high school teachers come to the college during summer breaks to get research experience they can take back to their own classrooms. The GK-12 program provides the college’s graduate students with a stipend to spend time in primary and secondary school classrooms teaching engineering and science. Both efforts are designed to encourage more young people to enter the STEM fields.

The two most recent lesson plans were created by Don McGowan, a teacher at Friendswood High School, and Brian Rohde, a Ph.D. student studying under chemical and biomolecular engineering faculty Ramanan Krishnamoorti and Megan Robertson. Both plans use model rockets to teach high school students about lift, thrust, gravity, drag and related subjects.

According to Fritz Claydon, professor of electrical and computer engineering and a principle investigator on the grants supporting these efforts, participants in each program are required to create some sort of peer-reviewed deliverable that allows their work to be transferred to other classrooms. The feedback the Cullen College receives from the NSF on its deliverables has been outstanding, he said. “Because of the efforts we’ve made and the success we’ve had, the NSF is saying that the gold standard for deliverables is the UH model.”

The support the Cullen College has received for its STEM education efforts bears this out. The college has won multiple grants over the years to operate STEM-related programs; the current awards to run the GK-12 Program and RET program alone total more than $3.4 million.

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