Toyota grant to Northern Kentucky University extends science learning to 26,000 elementary students

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - A $560,000 grant awarded to Northern Kentucky University this morning by the Toyota USA Foundation will help teach teachers how to better instruct students in science.

The grant was given to NKU’s Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics (CINSAM), a 14-year-old endeavor designed to make NKU a nationally recognized leader in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and scholarship. The education is often referred to as STEM.

The money is expected to enable the center to offer training in the Next Generation Science Standards to 1,100 teachers and administrators, and by extension to help teach at least 26,000 students.

The standards emphasize active learning, which has been shown to be more effective in student learning particularly for those most at risk.

"People don't learn by sitting and listening to somebody talk, especially in science," said Dr. John Ferrar, CINSAM director. 

NKU President Geoffrey Mearns pointed to such partnerships as not only vital to NKU, but the entire region to attract jobs to the region and the state:

“A critical factor in Kentucky’s ability to compete for employers today and in the future is our ability to produce skilled STEM workers. NKU will play an important role, but we cannot do it alone. We will need the support of partners like Toyota that appreciate the role education plays in Kentucky’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.”

Teachers Learn From Master Teachers

Farrar said the project was designed with a focus on collaboration and cooperation to model best practices in STEM education and to train teachers in the practices.

“The Next Generation Science Standards are an important scaffold for the improvement of STEM education in our state and country,” he said.

The program was piloted in Boone and Kenton counties last year, allowing teachers to observe master teachers, followed by in-depth professional development.

From their learning, teachers took new teaching approaches into the classroom, in an effort to teach complex topics in interesting, engaging ways. Students were given specific criteria such as including a loop and starting the ride with a hill before racing marbles through the looping tunnels.

NKU STEM Outreach Director Reeda Hart had a class of fifth graders at Stephens Elementary in Burlington, Ky., build rollercoasters made of swimming pool noodles. Those students attended the announcement Friday morning and confirmed their enthusiasm for the hands-on learning, which also included learning to take precise measurements of weight and size using gummy bears. 

"I liked that Reeda came in and taught us a lesson," said Kelsie Anderson, 9. 

Alex Sattorov, 10, said they weighed the bears using grams and Newtons. 

"I also understand that during the course of the experiment they ate some of their research," NKU President Geoffrey Mearns said. 

Amber Carter, the 5th grader's teacher, said Stephens responded so positively to the training that they have now built three STEM labs to carry out more hands-on learning.

“I’ve never, ever seen them engaged like that; they truly began to take ownership over their learning,” said Amber Carter, their teacher. “It took such higher-level thinking,” Carter said, “but it came so naturally in how it was presented by the CINSAM program.”

Coupled with limited implementation in Augusta and Williamstown independent schools as well as Bracken, Pendleton, Grant and Gallatin county schools last year, the program reached 188 teachers and more than 6,000 students.

Grant Will Help Extend Reach

Officials said that the grant will allow CINSAM to extend the program to Campbell and Robertson counties as well as Newport, Erlanger/Elsmere, Dayton, Bellevue, Ludlow, Silver Grove and Southgate independents. Within that expanded service area, 56 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch, 10 percent are underrepresented minorities and 48 percent are female.

“We are excited to begin work developing the Next Generation STEM classroom,”  Mearns said. “Students from across the commonwealth will benefit from this partnership with our Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics, as we work to develop innovative new approaches to science education.”

The Toyota foundation is a charitable arm of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, headquartered in Erlanger. Mike Goss, general manager of external affairs at Toyota in Erlanger, expressed hope that this type of science learning would help produce critically needed engineers for the auto industry and the U.S. economy, in general.  He told the students that Toyota is looking for engineers to help design their vehicles and the robots that help manufacture them. 

"We know from experience that this approach is impactful and is money well spent," he said.

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