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Feature: STEM Clubs Build Popularity

“Informal learning environments can definitely play an important role in science learning for all ages,” observes Leslie GoodyearWhat’s Keeping Them After School?

Flourishing clubs stress the E in STEM. — from the April 2010 issue of ASEE’s Prism magazine, by Mary Lord.

It’s a Friday afternoon, yet no one in Room 400 at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise, Ariz., is stampeding for home. Instead, students hover around a dissecting tray, wielding forceps and screwdrivers to examine a hamster-like critter called Zhu Zhu Pet. Exploring the circuitry and structure of this robotic rodent captivates even non-techies, helping to hook more students on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “It’s real science, not canned science,” explains math teacher Paul Tennyson. A former biology teacher who started the STEM Club in 2007, Tennyson’s aim is to “directly engage” students by pairing traditional science and math academics with engineering’s applications.

Welcome to the seedbed of engineering education. From suburban Phoenix to downtown Columbus, Ohio, STEM clubs are sprouting up in schools across the nation, cultivating curiosity about STEM subjects and building a pipeline of incoming engineering majors and future professionals badly needed in the U.S. workforce.

Some STEM clubs focus activities around national competitions, such as FIRST Robotics or the Science Olympiad. Others offer an array of integrated experiences, based on student interest. All appeal to a wider array of students than traditional math or science clubs while developing teamwork, leadership, and other life skills. The Cardinal Middle School club in Middlefield, Ohio, for instance, makes iMovies, designs games, and keeps video journals. Moreover, STEM clubs are fun – in part because of the engineering component.

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