Keeping Up in a Technical World

In a world of iPads, smart phones, and electric cars, technology is constantly evolving. National studies show the United States is falling behind in math and science education, so the next generation isn’t being prepared.

But parents and teachers in District 204 are working towards changing that for their students.

In Matt Kirkpatrick’s physics classes at Metea Valley High School, students don’t just read about theories. They discover them by doing labs. He hopes students will become inspired by science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM courses, and pursue a career in one of the fields.

“We have companies in this economy that are STEM companies that are hiring and looking for American workers and they don’t necessarily have enough American workers to fill those positions,” said Kirkpatrick, Science Department Chair at Metea Valley.

STEM education is growing throughout District 204. But it didn’t begin at the district level, or even a school level. The movement was started by a parent, Alka Tyle.

“Through our experience as parents at Neuqua Valley, we realized that there really were hardly any opportunities for him beyond the classroom to pursue hands-on science,” said Tyle, founder of STEM 204.

Tyle realized Naperville students, like her son, needed to be competitive to get into the top schools, so they needed opportunities. She knew that it would be difficult to fund so she started the work on her own, planning STEM speaker nights and finding professionals to sponsor students.

“This is a community rich in a lot of resources,” said Tyle. “A lot of parents are highly educated. A lot of them are STEM professionals. This is the high tech corridor in the Midwest.”
Tyle pushed STEM education for more than five years, but it wasn’t until last fall District 204 created a small stipend for teachers to lead STEM clubs in the three high schools. Students get together in small groups to work on their own research projects.

“It encourages kids to solve authentic problems that are relevant to the real world,” said Kirkpatrick.

“The best part that I like about the club is that we really try to push innovation and new ideas,” said Jinesh Shah, President of iSTEM at Metea Valley. “We’re not trying to re-create things that have already been done.”

The clubs are new to the schools this year, but there are already more than 300 hundred students involved across the district. And as the clubs work on inspiring students, the district has been reworking it’s curriculum based of the modeling approach. That means students do more hands-on learning.

“When I first started teaching, I was a person who stood up at the front,” said Mike Kennedy, a Physics Teacher at Neuqua Valley High School.
“Our students-we thought they were doing great, but they didn’t have a deep understanding of what was going on. And now that we’ve involved students in so many different ways, we’ve really made some good progress.”

Right now the iSTEM clubs are only at the high schools, but parents have been working on building programming in the lower levels as well.

Upcoming STEM events include science fairs for elementary and middle school students.

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