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Mass. Starts Early College STEM Program

paper plane (image from NASA)

Can project-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs lift student achievement and engagement? Massachusetts is betting on it.

This fall, a suburban Boston district became the first of six school systems to launch an engineering-focused STEM early-college initiative. According to the Boston Globe (11/13), teachers in Whitcomb Middle School’s sixth grade and Marlborough High’s ninth grade are integrating problem-solving for real world applications across all subjects, using the engineering design process.  Students typically work in groups and are encouraged to think creatively. A ninth-grade STEM class, for instance, might involve students using computer software to design a 3-D object as part of a project on transportation. The program also might include classroom visits from a professional working at Intel Massachusetts or Raytheon, or an internship experience with an industry partner.

The program, in which juniors and seniors will earn college credit, also embeds STEM into other subjects. Marlborough freshman Danya Gaudet, for example, says her history class started with the Scientific Revolution. In English, she and her classmates are learning how to write different essays so they can produce reports on transportation. In science, they’re learning about motion, and in math about graphing. “I’m starting to understand how things are linked,” she told the Globe.

Marlborough is the first of six school districts in the state to implement the STEM early-college program. Plans call for class levels to be added each year until grades 6 through 12 are included. Juniors and seniors will be able to take up to 16 college credits at Framingham State University, a longtime partner of the Marlborough district.

Another district partner is a national nonprofit organization, Jobs for the Future, which developed the early-college model for underserved youth. Marlborough is one of about 250 schools in the country using the model; roughly 80 of these are STEM schools.

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