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November 20, 2018

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UNLV summer program spurs STEM education

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Yasmina Chavez

Middle school student Joshua Yee, 12, works on his coding project during UNITE, a teacher-student STEM/Big Data 6-week camp, at UNLV, Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Clark County School District teamed up with UNLV to provide a crash course in Big Data programming for middle school, high school students and teachers to help the advancement of STEM education.

UNITE: STEM/Big Data Camp

Instructor Carter Chiu, left, talks with middle school student Tiffany Zhan, center, and high schooler Jessica Li, right, about their UNO coding project during UNITE, a teacher-student STEM/Big Data 6-week camp, at UNLV, Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Clark County School District teamed up with UNLV to provide a crash course in Big Data programming for middle school, high school students and teachers to help the advancement of STEM education. Launch slideshow »

Teachers and students from across the Clark County School District are looking toward the future of STEM education with a six-week crash course underway at UNLV.

The program consists of the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) and the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), which run concurrently at the university.

RET is for teachers to increase their science knowledge, giving them confidence to lead science activities in their classrooms and teach students skills that some often don’t learn until they attend college.

AEOP, for underrepresented students to learn STEM, aims to increase Nevada’s national education rating and create interest in students to develop the state’s next STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce.

Thirty-two students and 11 middle and high school teachers are taking part in the respective courses, taking place over the course of six weeks, where they learn computer programing, writing skills and research methods. A National Science Foundation grant to UNLV funded the program.

The goal is for teachers and the students with whom they are partnered to have publishable papers that are eligible for submission to research conferences such as IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

With a rush of science and technology jobs coming to Nevada, programs such as these are important for the state, said Elliott Ploutz, a UNLV graduate student who manages and instructs the courses.

“It’s really important to get these types of programs more often … It will give the kids more of an edge,” Ploutz said. “More funding in the schools for similar programs is also key.”

Brittany Cozzens, an elective teacher at Somerset Academy Losee, a middle school and high school mix, is excited to incorporate what she is learning.

“I plan on teaching my classes C++ and Java (computer programming languages) and having them work on that with the robots,” Cozzens said. “The cool thing is that I’ve been able to see from the student perspective how they work in groups and understand this type of stuff, what they can do and (develop) a lot of different teaching methods.”

Cozzens said she’ll take what she’s learned at the program to recruit new students to enroll in her elective classes in robotics and computers in business.

Robin Hill, a science teacher at Hyde Park Middle School, and his group are working on a research paper about cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles.

To aid the teachers and students, the UNLV writing center is providing five writing classes for the participants to enhance their research papers’ quality.

“Those have been really beneficial because my students enter national science competitions each year. It’s really frustrating because some groups fall apart (because of the writing process),” Hill said. “The writing center had all these rules on how to break it down, so I’ll take that back to the classroom.”

Maxwell Jay, a junior at Eldorado High School, wants to go into video game development, and he said the AEOP program is providing him with the early skills needed for that.

“I need to learn coding in order to create games and that kind of stuff,” Jay said. “I’m hoping to get somewhat fluent in coding from this program.”

Jay hopes a combination of game-design classes he’s taken at his school and what he’s learning in the AEOP program will prepare him for his collegiate career.

“I’m planning on going to UNLV and getting a degree in computer science,” Jay said.

Besides educating students in tech-related skills, having them in a higher-education setting is also beneficial, Ploutz said.

“The overall goal is to get these kids interested in STEM and get them used to the idea of college,” Ploutz said. “It lets them know that college is a real thing, and that they can achieve and do it.”

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