Sonoma State recieves grant to teach STEM courses in rural high schools

Sonoma State recently received a $4 million federal grant from the Department of Education to expand its “Learning by Making” program, which teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education courses to rural high school students. “Learning by Making” is a part of Sonoma State’s Education and Public Outreach.

According to the Sonoma State website, Lynn Cominsky, the project leader, said “We are thrilled that the Department of Education has recognized our work on our innovative 9th grade integrated STEM curriculum by awarding us funding to continue to develop the Learning by Making curriculum for another five years.” Cominsky is also the Department Chair of Physics and Astronomy and the Director of Education and Public Outreach. 

So far, Sonoma State’s “Learning by Making” program is being taught in some Mendocino county high schools, according to the Sonoma State website. The site reports that Cominsky said many rural schools tend to be underserved in STEM education because low student population leads to a lack of AP courses and a lack of credentialed teachers in the sciences. The program helps the schools overcome the lack of resources by educating teachers and integrating the program to meet students where they are, and teaches them to create, perform, and evaluate their own experiments. According to the website, the program’s former director Susan Wandling said that the evaluation of the program “demonstrated significant gains in science learning and improvements in mathematics skills” among the rural students.

This grant will allow the “Learning by Making” program to be extended to Lake and Sonoma counties. The Mendocino county high schools that it’s currently being taught at include Ukiah, Point Arena, and Round Valley. According to North Bay Business Journal Sonoma State has a goal of getting the program into 12 schools regionally within the next five years, and testing the curriculum at some urban schools. “Although the project is targeting rural schools, the curriculum also will be tested in selected urban schools, including Roseland University Prep and Healdsburg High School, to measure the student learning outcomes in different settings,” North Bay Business Journal reports.

The Sonoma State website reports that “The project fuses mathematical and computational learning by focusing on solving real-world scientific problems - with students and instructors working together. Explorations into earth science, biology, chemistry and physics are undertaken by students who learn to code in Logo, an easy-to-learn programming language.” The program meets the requirements for area “D” lab sciences for the UC and CSU systems. 

According to the STEM Universe website, the grant awarded to Sonoma State is part of $279 million in grants awarded to STEM programs nationwide. The site reported that the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, said, “It’s important that all students have access to a high-quality STEM education. These discretionary grant programs and this Administration’s increased focus on STEM will help ensure our nation’s students are exposed to STEM early in their lifelong education journeys and will have the tools needed for success in the 21st century economy.”