TUCSON, Ariz. — One teacher in the Flowing Wells School District is helping lead the way to get middle schoolers involved in science, technology, engineering and math. She's doing it after learning some new teaching methods of her own in early June.
Jaime Camero teaches 6th grade at Walter Douglas Elementary. She was recently selected as a 2021 National Stem Scholar. It is a national group of 10, chosen every year out of a more than 150 applicant pool. Those with the program say the scholars are then invited to Western Kentucky University to "engage in hands-on, minds-on science activities; connect with speakers and thought leaders in STEM education; learn with skilled science educators; and develop a creative Challenge Project for classroom implementation."
"We know from studies that have been done that only about 20% of high school graduates in the U.S. are sufficiently prepared to take STEM jobs and we want to solve that problem," says Dr. Paula Grisanti with the National Stem Cell Foundation. She says the foundation is on a mission to make sure students are ready to fill more and more job openings in STEM fields and it all starts in the classroom.
"All of the scholars were chosen because their challenge projects were outstanding. Because we believe as they do that the projects that they have envisioned will absolutely keep middle schoolers on their toes, excited about pursuing those classes into high school," says Dr. Grisanti.
That's where Jaime Camero comes in.
She says, "I really just wanted to have an opportunity to bring back that spark and get kids interested in science and have them love science even if its not their favorite subject."
Camero is the first ever STEM Scholar chosen from Arizona and wants to take her lessons out-of-this-world.
"The whole project itself is to teach the students about our place in the universe, scale and proportion, using models."
Jaime joined nine other scholars at Western Kentucky University to learn how her and other scholars' projects can be connected and then taught to middle school students in a new way.
"I'm the type of person that, I'm always trying to learn so that I can better educate my students. If I'm better educated myself and I can find new and innovative ways to get these concepts across to them that are sometimes pretty abstract. If you think about space itself, that's a pretty abstract concept," says Camero.
And she is taking on the challenge of explaining space with a hands-on approach.
"We are actually going to scale up from a model on a piece of paper and we're going to scale up to a model the size of our classroom and then a model that's the size of our hallway. Then we are going to build our own planetarium so that we can view seasonal changes in the night sky and then we are going to model, scale that up all the way hopefully to the size of our school yard but even those have limitations."
While the 6th grade teacher works to help students now, she says it is also important to prepare students for the future.
"The research showing that by 8th grade students typically become disinterested. You know, the research has shown that that's where we kind of lose students by the time they hit 8th grade. So, I feel like this middle school component is super important and we have some amazing science teachers at our junior high. So, whatever I can do to get them prepared to continue that and then continue that through high school and then hopefully on through college to go into these career fields then I've done what I set out to do."
The National STEM Scholar Program says each Scholar will receive a Chromebook and funding for Challenge Project supplies and materials. They will also "share midpoint progress with their colleagues while attending the National Science Teachers Association annual meeting in April 2022. Mentoring will be provided throughout the year by Western Kentucky University faculty."
For those interested in applying to be a National STEM Scholar, you can find out more information here.