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STARward STEM: Strengthening K-12 STEM Education with PBL in Space

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.— RTI International will support the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) efforts to provide equitable access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education opportunities for youth with STARward STEM. The program will facilitate transformative STEM enrichment through transdisciplinary project-based learning (PBL), a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world, hands-on projects that require the application of knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines.

The STARward STEM program will focus on Space, a priority of DoD Research and Engineering, with the goal to provide America’s future STEM leaders with enriched educational opportunities to lead in modernization, discovery, and technological innovation. RTI, Cumberland County Schools (CCS), DreamUp, the Emerging Technology Institute (ETI), and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center are collaborating to redefine the way the Space curriculum is explored.

The program will culminate by sending students’ actual projects to the International Space Station for experimentation as payload aboard a scheduled rocket launch. The approach aims to balance the wonder of cutting-edge scientific discovery with real-world applications that ignite students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

RTI’s STARward STEM Project Director, Dr. Laurie Baker, remarked, “We believe all students deserve moments of discovery, wonder and joy. STARward STEM is about creating unique experiences that will be Something They’ll Always Remember – experiences that will catapult more CCS students into future STEM careers.”

STARward STEM will impact a targeted subset of more than 4,600 K-12 students and 300 educators in CCS, North Carolina’s fifth largest school district. CCS also serves one of the highest populations of military-connected students in the southeast. The program focuses on promoting deliberate, equity-focused access to STEM education, particularly for student populations that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers.

RTI, CCS, and other project partners will work together in a three-year phased approach to implement the program. The project will be modified to align with CCS’s COVID-19 response plan, supporting student and teacher success through any alterations required for remote learning. One of the program’s goals is to ensure CCS has a sustainable PBL structure that can be adapted for multiple content areas beyond Space.