Is it really STEM at work?

In April 2011, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Strategic Plan Task Force of the FCR-STEM (the Florida Center for Research in STEM) published its strategic plan for Florida STEM education (Click Here to read the full report). This 60+ page effort focuses on K12 and post-secondary education. The declared task is to build a strong and deep STEM knowledge and skills based workforce. The document also defines current status by compiling a number of educational rankings and standardized test results into one document. These data provide some guidelines as to what needs to be improved, it is also data that the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE) and educators have been tracking, for that purpose, for a number of years. The Florida STEM Strategic Plan is laid out in three goals: the first related to student performance; the second related to teacher preparation and performance, and the third focused on establishing a sustainable infrastructure for STEM.

Although it is commendable that this FCR-STEM publication has set STEM performance and preparation goals, increasing the competency levels of Florida's K12 students and faculty in STEM disciplines has been a clear focus of the FL DOE for a number of years. Its implementation of the 2006 legislation defining Florida Career Academies initiated the FL DOE's long-term strategy to increase student graduation rates, provide relevant career aligned education, align career education programs with valid industry certifications, and implement problem based learning in learning communities in Florida schools. There are now numerous academies across Florida school districts, and thousands of industry certifications earned by Florida high school students. The FL DOE has continued to push the rigor of career academies by aligning the CTE standards to academic STEM standards to permit academic credit for students in the aligned academies. The state driven implementation timeline includes breathing room to be sure teachers are, or will be properly trained and credentialed to teach both a CTE and an academic science, or math.

The FLDOE has also developed the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS) as well as implementing new, more rigorous high school graduation requirements legislated in 2009. To graduate from a Florida high school, 9th graders in 2013 will be required to successfully complete 3 rigorous math and 3 rigorous science classes. Most of these courses must also have an end of course exam that can be used for acceleration and/or transfer.

What's next? As the FCR-STEM document is digested, it is hoped that policy makers, legislators, and industry partners appreciate that much of the first two goals are already being addressed by FL DOE. Therefore, they should focus their attention on establishing a sustainable infrastructure (goal 3) by tackling the challenging task of finding stable funding to adequately support and sustain the ongoing bold efforts being systematically implemented in our state. In addition to secure funding, sustainability requires that STEM industries must become personally and permanently engaged in the educational processes. There are many ways to do this, including financial incentives, mentoring, school partnerships, curriculum reviews, student and educator celebrations and more. A predictable, realistic funding formula, coupled with industry engagement will ultimately promote efficient and effective long term strategies and spawn a robust post-secondary population of students pursuing STEM careers, requiring further education.

To make all of this work, it is necessary to put the needed funding plan in place now, and then remember that the first data point reflecting full implementation of the new graduation requirements will come with the graduating class of 2017. We need to be patient, hold the course, and continue full support of the FL DOE programs and processes in place. The current efforts have built-in success indicators along the way to keep us informed and suggest corrections. Energy and resources should now be spent on program and process enrichments as well as adding strategic complementary programs which accelerate our successes.

What is FLATE’s role in this grand Florida STEM challenge? FLATE has supported a rigorous integrated approach to STEM in its curriculum, outreach, and recruitment efforts for K-12 students since its inception. All students need a strong STEM foundation no matter what they choose for their career path. Bringing students, faculty and industry together has always been one of our guiding principles behind everything we do. Since 2004, NSF, via FLATE alone, has invested nearly $6 million in supporting STEM education in Florida. Activities include STEM-based teacher and faculty professional development, ready to use curriculum modules based on Florida industries, implementation of school-industry partnerships, award winning curriculum development, support for technical programs and labs, awards and recognition for teachers, and providing financial support for relevant student experiences including robotics camps and industry tours. NSF has also provided significant funding directly to various Florida State Colleges and Universities in support of STEM-related educational initiatives.

On a different sTEm related front, please join us in celebrating the success of Lakewood Ranch students taking a lead in getting industry certified. Before you try your hand at the next sTEm-at-work puzzle, check out the article about Brooksville Elementary School and their use of our sTEm-at-work puzzles, drop in at the STEM educators corner to enroll for the STEM camp for teachers, or the FLATE Engineering Technology Institute. As we draw closer to the deadline, don't forget to submit your nominations for the 2011 FLATE Awards!

MSSC Paves Pathway for Students in Manatee County to Get Industry Certified

Students at Lakewood Ranch High School (LRHS) in Manatee County, FL attained forward momentum this spring thanks to the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) Certified Production Technician (CPT) assessment that has created a cohesive pathway for high school students to become industry certified. Doug Wagner, director for career and technical education at the school district of Manatee County says it’s no longer just about the skills. Today “workers need to have the educational as well as the technical credentials, and be able to apply the academic know-how to solve technical problems.”

Indeed, industry certifications form a core component in paving a pathway to high-tech, high-wage job in the modern manufacturing environment. From the things you wear, to the things you eat, see and sit upon, Wagner says there is a product that relates back to manufacturing and/or STEM. Now more than ever, students need to be educated about exciting and rewarding career choices, and educators play an integral role in striking the connection between industry certifications, manufacturing and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Greg McGrew, engineering technology instructor at LRHS has taken measurable strides in establishing a connection between technical, academic and practical skills, and in getting students industry certified. McGrew has served in this capacity for the past 15 years, and has been a driving force in creating excitement among students to become industry certified. His forte as an educator lies is his prowess as a motivator, and in his technical skills. He motivates students by celebrating their successes. He is also big on showcasing the connection between education, business, industry and solid career opportunities, and has led the way by becoming industry certified prior to his students. From building and designing cardboard chairs using SolidWorks, building carbon dioxide powered dragsters, constructing boats/floatation devices, or welding projects that involve creation of a 9 ft steel horse, McGrew has spearheaded numerous projects that combine hands-on learning with classroom curriculum.

Eugene Helfrick & Alec Bacon
First high school students
in Manatee County to earn
the MSSC CPT Certification
One of his major accomplishments undoubtedly has been his effort to encourage students to take the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) Certified Production Technician (CPT) assessment. In the last two years since McGrew has administered the MSSC testing, enrollment into the engineering technology program at LRHS has increased significantly. A total of 63 LRHS students have taken at least one of the MSSC CPT assessments. Forty eight percent of the students passed Safety, 74% passed Manufacturing Processes and Production, 75% passed Quality Practices and Continuous Improvement, and 73% passed the Maintenance modules. Among them, Eugene Helfrick and Alec Bacon passed all four parts of the MSSC CPT certification this spring, and became the first high school students in Manatee County to earn the CPT certification. Eugene Helfrick plans to attend UCF School of Engineering, and Alec Bacon who was accepted into the US Naval Academy plans to pursue a career as a naval engineer.

Industry certifications like the MSSC offer tremendous benefits and perform a two-fold function. For the students, it provides a competitive edge to prove their credentials to prospective employers, and serves as a credential to obtain internships, summer jobs, or other job opportunities after post secondary education. For manufacturers, it offers a pathway to ensure students’/incumbent workers’ knowledge, skills and ability to become productive employees. As an added bonus, students who get MSSC certified also qualify for CAPE funding ($1200 per student depending on where you are located in the state) from the Florida Department of Education.

The Manufacturing Skill Standards Council is a nationwide, industry-led organization that focuses on building foundational skills and knowledge needed by workers in the nation's advanced manufacturing sector. It offers manufacturing production workers the opportunity to demonstrate they have mastered the skills increasingly needed in the high-growth, technical jobs of the 21st century. FLATE has embedded the MSSC Skills Standards into the Engineering Technology (ET) A.S. /A.A.S. Technical Core that consists of 18 credit hours and covers CADD, Electronics, Measurements, Processes, Quality, and Safety. Upon completion of these courses, students can earn an 18 credit hour college certificate, and be prepared to take the MSSC skills tests to earn the national certification. To enhance this pathway, FLATE in conjunction with the Florida Department of Education and their industry working group, has also developed a new secondary program curriculum framework that allows high school students currently enrolled in career and technical programs and/or related areas that are aligned with MSSC Skills to have those credits applied to an ET Degree anywhere in Florida.

For information on LRHS contact Doug Wagner Doug Wagner at For information on FLATE’s statewide ET degree and the MSSC Skill Standards contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or visit

sTEm Puzzle #19: Vacuum Pump Operating Test For Gas Diffusive Flow

A vacuum pump pulls gas molecules down a long pipe by diffusion or convection. A technician must determine if the pump is making the gas move by diffusion instead of convection. In the former, the gas molecules move by random walk (“1 step back, 2 steps forward”) while in the latter, all molecules move in the same direction. The Tech starts the gas flow and monitors the time the gas takes to reach specific locations along the pipe. The Tech then compares the gas movement with pump performance data from previous tests. She also knows that for short distances, gas moves faster by diffusion.

Curve (a) is operating curve for diffusive flow down pipe. (Yes or no). Please submit your answers at

sTEm Puzzles Cultivate Problem-Based Learning At The Elementary Level

They are young, they are innovative, and they have a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Seth Dillon, Cody Torres, Jacob Argoncilli, Janya Capel and Dheron Barnes may be young, but it is not premature to envision them as future engineers. These fifth graders at Brooksville Elementary School (BES) in Hernando County are part of the engineering club at BES, and share a common passion for STEM. The engineering club is one of the most robust clubs on campus, and has members engaged in hands-on projects that range from building bridges, learning about live weight, dead weight, or programming robots.
A key part of their learning lies in becoming “out-of-the-box thinkers.” To set them on this path, Anna Speessen, one of the STEM teachers and a technology ambassador at BES has devised a plan that involves integration of FLATE’s, state-of-the-art STEM puzzles, into her STEM curriculum. To date, Speessen has used puzzles 1, 3 and 7 to teach fifth grade students like Seth and his classmates linear measurements, angles, and how to read graphs.

Speessen’s approach is simple. Her motto “the faster we fail, the sooner we succeed” adopted from the television show “Design Squad” is somewhat of a reverse engineering strategy. In that, to derive a solution and/or come to a reasonable conclusion, students undergo a step-by-step process whereby they talk about the things they do know, to get to the things they don’t know. Speessen hopes somewhere during the process students will be able to connect and bridge the dots, deconstruct the problem, understand, analyze and perhaps come to some form of solution, or at least a solution they are able to defend. The idea is a deviation from an answer-driven, traditional classroom form of learning/teaching to a more analytical skill-building tactic—one that promotes problem-based learning and higher level thinking skills.

In addition to cultivating analytical skills, the STEM puzzles have also helped expand students’ knowledge about local manufacturers by taking the content they’re learning in the classroom and connecting it to the real world using real world companies/scenarios. The STEM puzzles have also given students an opportunity to work as a group to bounce ideas off of each other, and raised awareness about local high-tech opportunities. Speessen hopes the experience will continue on in middle school, “motivate students to develop a passion for STEM," and to apply STEM in everyday practical applications.

The STEM puzzles represent a larger FLATE-led “sTEm-at-work” initiative that works to dispel a commonly held misconception that the letters s, t, e and m are four independent disciplines, and to advocate an operating principle behind STEM that science and mathematics support engineering practices that culminate in a technology application. The "sTEm-at-work" initiative currently offers three resources: STEM Puzzles, STEM video clips with embedded lessons, and HSTI or the High School Technology Initiative. To learn more about FLATE’s sTEm initiatives and resources contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or visit

Industry Day for Local Students Offers a Paradigm Shift in Technical Education

FLATE recently partnered with CTEF (Career Technical Education Foundation) in Palm Harbor, FL, to orchestrate a two-day “Industry Day” for high school students in the greater Tampa bay area. As a result of this effort, 125 students from the engineering academies at River Ridge High School in Pasco County, and 150 students from East Lake High School in Pinellas County toured 10 local high-tech manufacturing facilities. These fun-filled, yet educationally engaging tours showcased the importance of industry-aligned education, the tools required to meet these educational requirements, and the skills needed to secure sustainable career goals.

Students from River Ridge High School tour
Southern Manufacturing Technologies in
Industry hosts Honeywell, Con Med, Pall Aeropower, Nielsen Media Research, Micron Pharma Works, Coastal Caisson, Valpak, Jabil Circuit, Southern Manufacturing Technologies and Mitre Corporation opened their facilities to give students a detailed overview of high-tech operations. They also set up special employee presentations that provided an overview of educational pathways needed to secure available high-tech careers. As part of the experience, FLATE provided students with information on statewide educational and career opportunities in modern manufacturing, and advised students to take advantage of the resources posted on the “Made in Florida” website. The Center also helped cover a portion of the transportation cost for eight buses to transport students to and from and between manufacturing facilities.

Indeed, industry day was marked by a comprehensive effort to generate interest in engineering, manufacturing, technical education, and to integrate theoretical as well as practical experience into the educational experience. The initiative represented an extension of FLATE’s “Made in Florida” outreach campaign designed to give students a real-world view of high-tech careers/educational pathways, and an opportunity to connect classroom-based knowledge to real-world innovation and application. Dave Gula, FLATE’s outreach manager said the tours underlined the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and its relevance/applicability outside the classroom, and gave students an in-depth overview of high-tech careers, exploration of post-secondary educational requirements to qualify for these jobs.

Prior to the tour, students researched local high-tech companies, and explored the kinds of high-tech jobs they offered. Students were also required to document and report their experience at the conclusion of the tour. A post visit survey conducted by FLATE also showed more than half the students agreed the tour helped them understand the use of math, science and technology in industry. The survey indicated considering a career in manufacturing, or related technical industries. As pointed out by Gula “striking a connection between theoretical and practical knowledge enhances students’ interest and helps develop a desire to apply their knowledge towards innovation.”

The “Made in Florida” industry tours, for students grades 7 through 12, are designed to stimulate student interest in modern manufacturing careers, and to encourage enrollment in the technology programs throughout the state. Since the implementation of the tours in 2004, nearly 3000 students from 151 schools (middle, high school and technical) in the greater Tampa Bay area have toured approximately 50 local high-tech manufacturing facilities. From past surveys conducted after the tour, approximately 78% of the students either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ the tours were helpful to their understanding of jobs and career options. Eighty-eight percent also ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ they wanted a high-skill, high-wage position.

For information on FLATE and the Made in Florida outreach campaign, contact Dave Gula at, or visit and

STEM Educator's Corner: Alternative Energy: It’s Hot!

Summer STEM Camp for Teachers: A “Summer Camp Style” In-Service Workshop for Teachers

HCC SouthShore Campus
551 24th Street North East, Ruskin FL 33570.
June 21-23, 2011
Time: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This out of district, 15 contact hour in-service professional development workshop aimed at middle and high school teachers focuses on STEM curriculum and problem based learning (PBL) applied to the hot, new topic of alternative energy. Teachers will have fun while gaining additional tools to allow them to more effectively use and apply STEM concepts in school curriculum emphasizing the “T & E” in STEM, use educational technologies to develop a usable STEM lesson plan for use in their classrooms, become practitioners of problem-based and experiential learning in their classrooms based on energy activities, and become better equipped to help students understand, appreciate, and apply STEM concepts in school and investigate pathways in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing (including energy!) careers.

Please email before June 14 to register.

Save the date: FLATE Engineering Technology Summer Institute

(Click on images to enlarge)
For specific questions contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or Brad Jenkins at

MAF Discussion Forum II

Discussion Forum II (Sarasota)

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For more informion on the forums visit