Elmore County Schools STEM director Tracy Wright’s research pertaining to science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) is influencing a new approach to educating students.

“We are starting a STEM action plan next Tuesday,” Wright said. “It will be our vision statement and make it uniform across the county with what we are wanting to do. We are going to educate the principals first. Principals don’t know everything. Then we have to educate the teachers.

“It’s not just science, technology, engineering and math. This plan covers everything. We’re trying to get out of that factory mode of a classroom.” 

According to Wright, a good place to begin is to let students collaborate on problems.

“When I was teaching math, I started to bring tables together and let the kids discuss math,” he said. “I’d give the students something abstract and watch them struggle, debate, laugh and cry. By the end of the year if I was to ask those students about that particular standard they were able to recall and reply or solve a simple math problem easier than if I lectured. I’d go home tired and they would go home frustrated.”

The STEM way of thinking in Elmore County had been brewing for a few years, according to Wright.

“The previous superintendent allowed me to begin to build a STEM program,” he said. “Kudos to Mr. Dennis. He came in and he saw something in what we were doing that is a need for Elmore County’s children.”

Just this school year, all four public high schools in the county have a robotics team. 

“We had all four robotics teams compete this year and two teams placed at the state level,” Wright said.

Wetumpka’s robotics team was recently challenged to come up with a solution for a toddler experiencing mobility issues caused by Cerebral palsy. The team, facilitated by Dr. Virginia Vilardi, recently met with the young girl and her mom to see if they could help provide a solution.

“We brought a problem to high functioning students at Wetumpka High School,” Wright said. “One of the kids on the team asked the mom if she wanted to have control over the mobility device. The meeting just ran wild with ideas. Students considered putting sensors in the vehicle.”

Wright said the students considered a variety of engineering design features during that meeting. 

“We have all these great things going on in the state,” Wright said. “We have to get these kids up to par with 21st century skills. We have the F-35, Google, the battleship, all these things that are coming to the state of Alabama very fast. We’re sending kids out not prepared to be successful in STEM-based jobs.”

The county has recently partnered with several state universities to assist in helping form and carry out the STEM initiative.

“We partnered with Auburn University, University of Alabama Huntsville and Auburn University Montgomery,” he said. “Those three universities are doing some special things for us in the STEM fields.”

According to Wright, UAH is surveying the county to see where its strengths and weaknesses are in STEM, AUM is creating a program that uses art to deliver math lessons and Auburn University is connecting with elementary schools in the county to show teachers how to conduct STEM lessons.