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Interdisciplinary UND team nets V-STEM' grant to help spur scientific interest in young minds

by Kallie Van De Venter, UND University & Public Affairs student writer

Posted on 11/6/2013

The project lets fifth-eighth-grade students build a solar city model

Creating a city that runs on solar energy is in the works with the help of a new two-year, $340,000 grant awarded to an interdisciplinary team of University of North Dakota faculty members.

UND's Drs. Mary Baker, Mark Guy and Tim Young are the co-principal investigators for the grant project known as "Visualizing Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics," or V-STEM for short. This grant will be implemented in fifth grade through eighth grade in three North Dakota school districts, which were selected, based upon their students' standardized test scores in science and mathematics. The purpose of the grant is to enhance students' excitement and conceptual learning in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The students will be integrating real life problems by building a solar city model.

"A solar city doesn't exist yet; people want to see one. Solar energy can be foundational to all of the sciences," Young said, "We need more scientists. Most of our energy comes through coal and wind; solar is something new."

"These will be the students who make a real solar city possible," Baker said.

Through the grant, UND also will provide exposure to scientists, mathematicians, engineers, technology-support to teachers and students. Students are able to connect with these professionals to get ideas on how to improve the solar city model.

Along with this grant, students also will have access to more technology and visualizations for learning including computer graphing, diagramming, 3-Dimensional models, iPad apps, simulations and visual immersion in the innovative scientific learning environment of the inflatable GeoDome planetarium, an interactive scientific teaching tool developed by Guy and Young.

"V-STEM focuses on integrating a variety of interactive visualization to create STEM learning environments that are meaningful and exciting for both teachers and students," Guy said.

The curriculum of V-STEM along with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will give students "authentic real world problems" to tackle, he added.

The goal of the V-STEM grant is to find way to improve student learning in mathematics and science courses.

"If we don't interest them in middle school they won't be interested in high school; when it comes time to register for classes in college, they most likely will not pick a program that heavily involves science or math," Baker said.

"We want them to be prepared before they get here (to UND)," Young said.

The results of the grant will be measured by looking at standardized testing scores and other testing procedures. If the curriculum developed with the grant academically improves students' tests scores, more schools might adopt the V-STEM approach to how students learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The V-STEM grant has a possibility of a one year extension.

David L. Dodds
Media Relations Coordinator
Public Relations Group
Division of University and Public Affairs
264 Centennial Drive Stop 7144
Grand Forks, ND 58202-7144
701.777.5529 | 701.777.4616 fax

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