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Interest blossoms in STEM education movement

July 16, 2013 Updated: July 16, 2013 at 10:00 am

An 8-month-old regional consortium exploring how to align science, technology, engineering and math education to meet the needs of the workforce will get a better sense of where it's headed this week.

The STEM Consortium - formed in November under the direction of Falcon School District 49's science, technology, engineering and math coordinator Dianne Kingsland - will host a daylong brainstorming session Thursday at the Air Force Academy.

A panel discussion followed by breakout sessions will help the group chart a direction for what members want to accomplish: "Support the pre-kindergarten to workforce pipeline."

"With what's going on nationally and in the state, it seems like it's all formulating into STEM. Everybody's recognizing the need for it - and the need to be collaborative and share resources," Kingsland said.

The consortium involves seven school districts, making it the largest alliance among area districts. Several colleges and universities, military installations, defense contractors and other industries and businesses with a vested interest also are part of the movement.

Kingsland said she's surprised by how quickly the idea has grown. The group has amassed a contact list of 100 and draws up to 50 people at its meetings, held every other month.

The July meeting coincides with an annual STEM boot camp for elementary, middle and high school educators, presented by several organizations, including the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Colorado Consortium for Earth and Space Science Foundation. The hands-on training program begins Tuesday and gives teachers tools they can take back to the classroom. About 100 educators attended last year's event.

Even more ideas for the path of the regional consortium are expected to come from the "Reinventing Education for the Global Market" symposium. To be held Friday evening at the Buell Theater in Denver, the event is part of a four-day program from the Biennial of the Americas, a festival of ideas, arts and culture Gov. John Hickenlooper envisioned when he was Denver's mayor.

Kingsland said educators are waiting to hear what Hickenlooper now envisions for education as it relates to industry and business.

While every school teaches science, technology, engineering and math, the concept of STEM moves beyond traditional lesson plans into project-based learning that integrates the subjects, instead of looking at them separately.

"STEM is not about the end product; it's the process of teaching kids how to really think," Kingsland said. "Kids need to be able to think outside the box and develop a list of 21st-century skills, and these subjects expand to every field."

It's especially important not to forget the younger students, said Janet Krompier, an elementary science teacher in Academy School District 20.

"The little kids are not focusing on their grades - they're coming to school to learn, and if you tell them something is not going to work, they'll say, 'Can we try it, anyway?' They don't fear failure, and STEM is all about problem-solving," she said.

Kingsland said consortium members will gather suggestions from the month's events and present them at the September meeting.

The group wants to develop internships and apprenticeships for students and identify funding to keep it moving forward as an organized support system for STEM education.

School districts involved in the consortium are Falcon D-49, Colorado Springs School District 11, Academy School District 20, Lewis-Palmer School District 38, Peyton District 23JT, Widefield School District 3 and Douglas County School District. Not all of the districts have STEM programs.

"The consortium is a great networking site to meet leaders in the community and make connections," Krompier said. "The consortium is able to get different resources to come together to benefit our kids as they grow through their education and go to college. It helps us give our kids the best opportunities."

The consortium is open to any school district and business. For more information, contact Kingsland at 491-3177.

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