TTU to host series of events known collectively as "STEM Saturday"

Tennessee Tech University will host approximately 600 elementary, middle and high school teachers and students on campus this weekend for a series of science, technology, engineering and math events that are collectively being called “STEM Saturday.”

The event that will attract the single greatest number of participants — estimated at nearly 500 — is “Engineering a Future: Lights, Camera, Action!” Targeted specifically for middle school-aged girls, it will include activities and workshops that incorporate the technology Hollywood uses for movies, music and television shows — such as green screen technology, digital recording methods and computer-aided animation.

Another popular student event that will be presented on Saturday is the Rapid Prototyping Workshop, which is a demonstration of a $90,000 machine that is revolutionizing the way engineers create three-dimensional models. The machine, which looks much like a photocopier, reads data entered by students and professors to construct a 3-D model, layer by layer.

Other STEM Saturday events include the College of Engineering Math and Science Partnership Follow-up and the Upper Cumberland Middle Grades Math Partnership Graphing Calculator and Geometer Sketchpad Workshop.

“Both of these events are follow-ups to STEM institutes we hosted last summer to provide professional development to middle and high school teachers,” said Maggie Phelps, director of TTU’s STEM program.

Although the university has made a priority of raising funds for the construction of a STEM Center to improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and math from pre-school through college, that project won’t likely be completed before 2008. The lack of a centralized facility, however, isn’t stopping TTU from already offering what STEM programs it can, Phelps said.

“In order to be globally competitive, the United States must continue to be at the forefront of these important fields, but the percentage of U.S. students choosing careers in these fields just isn’t keeping pace with the rest of the world,” she said.

“TTU is the perfect setting for a STEM Center because we’re a technological university located in a largely rural region that is home to many economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students, and we want them to be ready to major in one of those fields when they enroll at TTU,” she continued.

In order to be successful within the STEM disciplines, however, students must have both a basic, working knowledge of a particular field’s fundamentals — especially mathematics — and an interest in that field — both of which can be provided by STEM Center activities, Phelps said.

“These topics don’t always come easy to a lot of students, but they are fascinating,” she said. “If students can retain a childlike curiosity about the way things work, then they can be successful in any of these fields — and that’s what the STEM Center is all about.

“All these events set for Saturday are proof that TTU’s STEM faculty are working together with public school partners to offer activities and workshops to increase student interest in these fields and that the university is collaborating with school districts to provide quality, content-based professional development,” Phelps said.

Also on Saturday, several TTU STEM faculty members will be at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville to attend a workshop about aligning undergraduate STEM courses for elementary education majors.

For more information about TTU’s planned STEM Center and campus STEM activities, call 931/372-6573 or visit the STEM Center web site at www.tntech.edu/stem.

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