Barnett discussed Urban HydroFarmers, a two-year-old, NSF-funded initiative – developed with Lynch School colleagues Professor David Bluestein and Director of Urban Outreach Initiatives Catherine Wong – that engages high school students in math and science through soil-less hydroponic farming and green energy technology. Additionally, students become entrepreneurs who sell their produce at local farmers’ markets – part of the project’s mission of preparing a “green-collar” workforce.
The White House-sponsored Next-Generation High Schools Summit brought together officials from public and charter schools, business-backed STEM initiatives and non-profit organizations focused on the role of high schools in preparing students with the skills they will need in college and their careers.
A focal point of this year’s State of the Union initiatives, the Obama administration has called for more “Next-Generation” secondary schools – schools designed for more personalized and active learning, access to real-world lessons such as “making” experiences, connections to colleges and universities and expanded STEM opportunities for girls and students from groups who are underrepresented in STEM fields and careers.
The White House summit announced more than $375 million will be made available – coming largely from private sources – to support the design and re-design of high schools to provide enhanced STEM classes and programming.
The initiatives unveiled at the summit included the expansion of privately-backed programs, such as IBM’s P-TECH schools, the New Tech Network, Silicon Schools Fund and EDWorks.
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation will provide $200 million to expand student-centered approaches to learning in New England, according to the announcement. The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will lead efforts to help more than 1,000 school leaders in the US redesign their schools.
Barnett said he expects school redesign initiatives to emphasize “maker spaces” – where hands-on projects meld lessons in STEM fields, innovation and entrepreneurship – technology-laden group work classrooms that have become a focal point of efforts to ensure post-secondary high-tech readiness.
Those types of classrooms will also require teacher professional development and coursework that connects to educational standards, Barnett said.
“Maker spaces get kids engaged in making things and open them up to being entrepreneurs and job creators,” said Barnett. “But as with many of the newest approaches to STEM education, we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. We know students are engaged, which is important. But do these projects help with critical thinking skills? Do they help with advanced problem solving? Right now we just don’t know the results.”
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