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Society staff present, lead activities at local STEM conference

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Society for Science & the Public was one of the sponsors of the Georgetown Day School (GDS) STEM conference on Friday, March 4. The third annual conference calls attention to the inequality of gender and race in science, engineering, and mathematics fields. It focuses on recruiting and maintaining women and underrepresented groups in STEM. About 237 students from 27 schools and 37 teachers and STEM professionals attended the conference this year.

The conference, hosted by GDS, is a public-private partnership that invites students and faculty from DC-area charter, independent, and public schools to participate in STEM education. The STEM conference was created and directed by Bill Wallace, a science teacher at GDS and Judging Chair for Broadcom MASTERS.

“For me, it is critical that all DC students have access to quality STEM education,” Bill said. “We also want these students to see role models and meet STEM professionals.”

The DC public schools have done a good job introducing the Next Generation Science Standards into their classrooms, he said. “However, we wanted to supplement the classroom STEM education with activities, talks, and networking that are opportunities beyond the classes. I think it is very important that students from various schools in the area meet and talk STEM together. There are really no other venues for such inter-school conversations, either between students or, importantly, between teachers.”

It is very important that students and teachers from various schools meet and talk STEM.

The conference was originally a collaboration between E.L. Haynes, a DC public charter school, and GDS as a public-private partnership project to bring STEM opportunities to all kinds of students in the area. “Since then, GDS has taken over as the host for the conference,” he said. This year is the third annual, since last year was snowed out.

Society education program staff attended the conference to give presentations and lead activities. Victor Hall, Senior Outreach Specialist, gave a presentation on the Society, Science News, Science News for Students, and the Society’s education programs.

Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the White House and former head of Google X, gave the keynote speech. “Megan’s speech was riveting! All of the students listening to her also looked very engaged, and inspired,” said Sabrina Scull, Associate Specialist.

Society staff also led a technology activity for students. “We led a SnapCircuits activity that resembled different electricity-dependent scenarios in a typical home,” Sabrina said.

“The premise was a student won a house from a game show, but there was no electricity set up inside,” said Erin Cummins, Associate Specialist-Broadcom MASTERS. Students had to set up lighting or fans on either the same switch or separate switches. The challenges grew increasingly difficult.

“The students really enjoyed it!” Erin said. “They worked in teams so they were able to meet other students in the area who were also interested in STEM. Some knew more about circuits and helped others who might not have covered that topic yet.”

Other presentations during the conference covered the use of mobile devices in the classroom and innovative ways to incorporate more complex STEM concepts in classrooms without the use of expensive tools. Another Broadcom MASTERS judge and a Senior Curriculum Developer at Girls Who Code, Sarah Judd, led a lecture on coding.

The community’s response to the conference has been “fantastic,” Bill said.

GDS has been completely supportive, offering the use of the school for the day. His colleagues have helped immensely. GDS parents, especially Megan Smith (CTO of The White House), lent their expertise in talking to the students.

“Amongst the schools, both public and independent, there has been a great collegiality,” Bill said. “We greatly appreciate all of the schools that worked with us to bring their kids in for the day to either present aspects of their STEM programs, such as robotics or student research, or to attend the various presentations.”

“It is amazing how many professional organizations and individuals are concerned about bringing STEM education to our students,” he said. Each of the conference volunteers should be applauded for their commitment to helping to diversify the STEM professions. Bill also thanked the Society and Neustar Technology for their kind sponsorship to help enable the conference.

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