Engineering Academy at Greco Middle School Educates Next Generation of Engineers & Problem Solvers

The Engineering STEM Academy at Greco Middle School in Tampa serves as a pillar and
platform for students to engage and explore careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM. The Academy is a “True Academic Academy” modeled after the National Career Academy Coalition standards of practice. The Academy’s predominantly engineering/career and technical education-themed curriculum promotes hands-on learning and integration of real-world experiences into the classroom.

A streamlined curriculum is part of what continues to define students’ success at Greco’s STEM Academy

where 60% of the students in 6th and 8th grade are boys; however 80% of 7th grade students are girls. “Girls bring great energy and creativity into everything they do,” and are “equal to boys” said Elizabeth Simpson, lead teacher for technology education at the Academy. “Any girl who likes math and science would be a perfect candidate for a STEM Academy like ours.” Simpson who has also served as a technology instructor for FLATE’s All Girls camp says sometimes there is a stigma about engineering programs not being a logical choice for girls. In reality female students she says bring organization to projects and focus on the criterion.

Curriculum at the Greco STEM Academy is geared for both girls and boys to excel and cultivate

an interest in STEM. It covers a wide range of engineering-themed concepts from civil engineering to robotics, each tying to mathematics, science, social studies, or language arts in some way, or other. In each of these, teachers play an integral role in formulating integrated lesson plans that enable students to make connections between various courses and their applicability in real-world settings. For example teaching at FLATE’s robotics camps enabled Simpson to design exciting challenges that are injected into in-class projects to help student think outside the box.

The 7th grade course is another great example of integrated lessons wherein students learn
about the force of water, gravitational potential, energy and water pressure in science and build a working model of a water tower during a technology class. The best towers from the school are displayed during a yearly competition hosted by the American Water Works Association. “It’s a great project that students get very excited about” Simpson said. Another favorite project-based learning is the 6th grade activity that entails learning about simple and complex machines by building catapults, or the 8th grade project that is all about robots and learning about hydraulic robotic arms, underwater robots, and LEGO MINDSTORM EV3 system. “Learning in a STEM environment is very engaging for students, and enhances students’ excitement for learning” Simpson said.

Given their exposure to a structured STEM based learning environment, graduates from GMS’s
STEM Academy are poised for success. Each year approximately 25% of students enroll into a STEM high school in Hillsborough County, with several looking to pursue a STEM/Engineering related field. It also shares a close partnership with regional organizations that are committed to students’ success in STEM-related fields. Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE serves in the GMS advisory committee. Every year FLATE also conducts student tours of the engineering technology degree lab for eighth grade students, with FLATE staff serving as judges for GMS-led STEM competitions. “Engineers are problem solvers” says Simpson. She hopes her students will use their knowledge of mathematics and natural sciences to “create and enhance technologies that benefit humanity.”

For more information on the Engineering Academy at Greco Middle School visit http://greco.mysdhc.org/programs/STEM, contact Elizabeth Simpson at elizabethe.simpson@sdhc.k12.fl.us, or tweet/follow them @GrecoSTEM. For information on FLATE’s summer robotics camps and STEM related curriculum contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org.