New STEM center to focus on education process

The STEM Education Center, housed in the Vocational and Technical Education Building in St. Paul, is holding its grand opening Thursday.

Danielle Nordine

As science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects take a more central role in education nationally, the University of Minnesota recently added a center that is working to study educational issues surrounding STEM topics. The STEM Education Center, housed in the Vocational and Technical Education Building in St. Paul, is holding its grand opening Thursday. It offers researchers from across the University a place to collaborate and better understand the learning and teaching processes involved with the subjects. âÄúWe really want to understand STEM and particularly how you can integrate different subjects and teach them together in a meaningful way,âÄù said the centerâÄôs co-director Tamara Moore. There are currently more than 10 research projects running through the center, some of which started before the centerâÄôs creation. Projects range from studying how people learn STEM subjects to BrainU, a program helping middle school and high school teachers incorporate neuroscience curriculum into classes. âÄúItâÄôs hard for teachers when they have a list of content they have to stuff into studentsâÄô minds,âÄù said Janet Dubinsky, a neuroscience professor and one of the lead researchers for BrainU. âÄúThe fun part of doing science is very hard to get into science education.âÄù Collaboration with the centerâÄôs co-director Gillian Roehrig on the BrainU project is essential, Dubinsky said. âÄúI simply donâÄôt have the qualifications to do it on my own. IâÄôm not trained in how to teach people to teach,âÄù Dubinsky said. âÄúSo the collaboration is a perfect opportunity.âÄù Creating the center, which has been in the works since the summer, has allowed researchers an opportunity to reach out to other disciplines throughout the University, Moore said. Francis Lawrenz, a CEHD researcher and professor in educational psychology, said she will likely be doing research through the center in the future. âÄúIt provides the opportunity for much more interaction with others and a broader perspective on how to solve the problems youâÄôre addressing,âÄù she said. âÄúThe more people and different lenses you bring in a particular problem, the more likely you are to find a solution.âÄù The STEM center is technically under CEHD but also includes researchers from the College of Biological Sciences, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, the Medical School and the Institute of Technology. Publishing research in journals is always a goal for researchers, Moore said, but the center wants to promote finding practical applications for the research. âÄúIf, as a researcher, I donâÄôt do a good job of getting this information into the hands of practitioners, IâÄôm not really doing my job,âÄù Moore said. Researching better teaching methods and the national push for more math and science teachers is important for student learning, Lawrenz said. âÄúStudents of teachers who are better prepared to teach these subjects have higher achievement,âÄù she said. âÄúReading, math and science are the things that are very important for the nation to be economically stable, and weâÄôre not particularly good in those areas.âÄù