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University Takes Fresh Approach to STEM Education For Future Teachers

Written by Bill Laurienti

The University of Jamestown’s newly installed SmartLab HQ is bringing STEM education into the mix of their Teacher Education Department. As a required course, future teachers become fully certified STEM lab facilitators, something they can boast on their resume after graduation. In an interview, Dr. Leann Nelson, the Teacher Education Department chair, says that none of these future teachers will “teach” in the STEM lab, instead they allow the students to take responsibility for their next-generation learning. Nelson says, “the SmartLab HQ is where students explore STEM and media arts through applied technology and project-based learning.” Nelson further explains how the students can develop something in a fully integrated learning environment that includes furniture, technology, curriculum and assessment to support hands on and minds on learning with up to date technology. Nelson says there is a growing need for technology education.

University of Jamestown spent about a year and a half exploring ways to enhance their education. The school knew they had to move into the area of technology, so they began looking into Makerspace and STEM education options. UJ connected with North Dakota’s Center for Distance Learning who wanted a project-based learning program that combines STEM with curricular content in a SmartLab that’s designed for North Dakota K-12 students. 

With these options, they could get ahead of the curve for future jobs, so their students could benefit and excel in the outside world. Nelson says that UJ can use their STEM lab as a sort of recruitment tool for potential students, enhancing their attendance. UJ purchased the pre-K through High School SmartLabs where students receive increasing levels of educational tools based in project-based learning. Elementary school students are learning with things like Ozobots and high school students are coding their own games among many other technology based next generation learning tools.

UJ is working with the NDCDE and will be bringing in students from the private and public schools in Jamestown, where their undergraduate students will be the facilitators working with the kids. UJ sees this as a mechanism to prepare their undergrad students for teaching in a student-centered learning environment.

The learning doesn’t stop there either, students can take what they have learned in the STEM lab and integrate it to other classes. Nelson advises that teachers who are not trained in the STEM lab need not worry when taking their class into the SmartLab, the trained facilitator will guide where needed. Everything down to the furniture is customized for enhanced learning, problem solving and collaboration. There are stations each with three tables extended out, a computer and two chairs to allow for collaboration on projects. The chairs and pods are all on wheels so that if a group has a question they may roll over to other groups and collaborate with ease. This allows students to problem solve and research with each other rather than asking the teacher for solutions.

Learn more about the NDCDE’s SmartLab and the great information about STEM Education on their website here!

Related articles:

North Dakota Partnership Brings STEM Education to Rural Schools

SmartLab class for future teachers starts at UJ

University of Jamestown Boasts Only Higher Education SmartLab

Bill Laurienti

Bill Laurienti is a Content Marketing Specialist at Creative Learning Systems. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education (English) from Colorado Mesa University and a Master of Arts in Secondary Teaching from the University of California's Rossier School of Education. Bill came to CLS after 10 years in the secondary classroom. He believes SmartLabs are important tools for engaging unengaged students and helping them access careers they might not otherwise have imagined.

Case Study

Going beyond STEM to teach essential skills

When the team at Jewell Houston Academy, a magnet school in Texas, looked for a STEM program, they wanted one that would not only engage students in STEM careers but could also teach conflict-resolution, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills.

Read about how the SmartLab HQ impacted both learners and enrollment.