Massachusetts High School Uses STEM to Teach About the Societal Impact Technology Plays

IMPACT STORY: KING PHILIP REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL, MASSACHUSETTS

A STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related job doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be working in  a lab or need a fancy degree. There are far more applications to STEM related work but the assumption that you can  only be a scientist or engineer persists. Between this and a lack of a connection between the classroom and real world is why many students, even those that are interested in STEM related subjects, end up switching to a more  popular degree, like business, halfway through their college years.   

However, STEM jobs are often referred to as the jobs of the future, so as this sector continues to grow over the next  10 years there is a need for individuals who will work in jobs such as software development, medical and health  services management, and data science to name a few. 

Massachusetts as a matter of fact has more demand for STEM jobs than almost every other state where employers  posted over 23,000 jobs in data science in 2018 alone. But like many states, “Massachusetts is struggling to expand  its data science workforce and increase the diversity of the workforce to ensure innovation.”

The onus then is put on educators, schools, districts, after school programs, and camps to re-engage students in  these types of jobs through inclusive and engaging STEM programs that link what they learn back to real-world  applications.  

However, not all succeed in keeping that engagement alive nor can these more robust programs be accessible  without extra funding due to their high cost. The schools that do succeed at implementing new and engaging  curriculum into their classrooms end up having students beg for more.  

Take King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Massachusetts, where based on a set of responses received from high school students, the district  learned that there was a desire for more engineering and lab sciences classes. 

King Philip Regional High is ranked 86th within Massachusetts and #2,116 in national rankings, which puts it roughly in the top 10% across the nation.  

Their vision for the district is simple: 

“The King Philip Regional School District inspires students to develop their passions and prepares them to succeed in a world of rapid and constant change.”

What helps set King Philip apart from the rest is its desire to implement a new  curriculum into their district. A curriculum that focuses on not only biotech and programming but helps students  understand how empathy plays into STEM and engineering. But with many STEM programs focusing more on  making robots and other toys, how does an educator have these deeper conversations with their students and  engage them to ask deeper questions?  

It starts with an educator that is ambitious and wants to give these interdisciplinary skills to their students. It is also  critical to have a superintendent and district that is willing to try something new. When implementing any new curriculum, educators face countless hurdles. New programs must consider the classroom management, curriculum, professional development, and student engagement. 

With their multi-year School District Strategic Plan in hand, the King Philip Regional team went to work. When they  were awarded the Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) grant from the state, they looked to programs that would help them excel in talking about digital literacy in a new way, address the societal impact of these types of  technologies, have a connection from the classroom to the real-world, and support their educators from a  professional development standpoint.  

As a school that has gained local attention from local government officials for their integration of STEM with a focus  on biotech, it wasn’t long before Dr. Susan Gilson, the Assistant Superintendent looked to NeuroMaker, and it wasn’t much longer after that that the whole team had their big “AHA moment.” Susan explains,

“We had our high school team that teaches biotech,foundational physics, robotics, and computer programming together for training. Fireworks just went off and we saw multiple connections to challenge and excite our students by leveraging BCI technologies within our existing curriculum.” 

The team found themselves thinking about a phased implementation approach and considering questions such as: 

• Why not work with the arm in Foundational Physics to teach freshmen about grip? 

• Why not redesign authentic learning experiences within our Biotech courses such that they interface with our Computer Programming classes?  

With this type of mindset, the district, as a whole, is looking to  see how they can embed the NeuroMaker technology into their own innovative science pathway. The goal is for  students to begin exploring NeuroMaker technology within more general courses, such as 9th grade Physics, while providing opportunities for students to collaborate, think critically, and design innovative projects in the more  advanced courses like Biotech, Robotics, and Programming. 

Matthew Gorr, the King Philip Robotics and Computer Programming Teacher, shares:  

“I like the fact that these devices actually support/connect with more human interactions. This is about having empathy for people and making the world a better place, it’s that application that motivates student thinking about how to make innovations better. Other courses that I’ve had so far are missing the human connection. Student attention and engagement is at its best when the theme is ‘we’re going to use these devices to help people.’” 

Tying all of this project-based learning to real industry applications is an added benefit to both the educators and students who seek to be able to talk about real-world connections within a growing STEM industry.  

What NeuroMaker brings to the table is unique, a full solution, for less than $600, that includes hardware, software,  curriculum, and a capstone competition. There are no added fees, and the flexibility of the program allows a  classroom/school/district/afterschool program/camp to either implement it as a whole or lean into it as needed. A  school can also take a phased implementation approach and roll out parts of the program as they see fit, similar to  what King Philip has chosen to do within their existing course work. 

With this kind of flexibility, it is easy to see why over 200 schools, universities and programs around the country are  adopting the NeuroMaker STEM curriculum, which allows students to not only build a prosthetic hand and explore  concepts within brain computer interfaces (BCI), but also tie their learning back to real-world applications while fine  tuning 21st century skills. By engaging students in these authentic project-based learning experiences, students are  poised to make societal impacts that strengthen the human connection that make the world a better place.