Over the past several years, SparkFun has had the distinct pleasure of working with many teachers and educators through partnerships with our Department of Education. We've seen amazing growth in the STEM fields and a really amazing shift in focus from many schools across the country.

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This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week (and yesterday was National Teacher Appreciation Day), so today we wanted to share an interview with Travis O'Hair, a teacher at Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo. Travis is heavily involved in some amazing STEM activities and Skyline has an amazing program. Check out the interview to learn more:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, STEM Academy, and your role there?

I have been a science & STEM teacher at Skyline High School for the past 8 years, teaching physical science, honors chemistry, honors biology, AP biology, creative and advanced engineering, and senior design.  Also, for the past three years, I have also worked as the STEM Academy coordinator.  Our STEM Academy is composed of approximately 350 students (9-12th grades) who focus their electives studies in pre-engineering courses.  Students who complete the requirements and receive their STEM certificate upon graduation can earn guaranteed admission into the University of Colorado at Boulder College of Engineering.  

It seems like education is really starting to embrace STEM initiatives more than ever before. Do you think that's true? And if so, what do you attribute that to?

Absolutely true.  I would say most of it is due to several factors.  First, STEM education provides students with a more practical, hands-on approach to 21st century skills and helps them in becoming creative, out-of-the-box thinkers and problem solvers.  It truly puts the student in charge of problem solving and creating solutions to those problems and diminishes the idea that the teacher has sole control of the answers.  Also, both federal and state governments are pushing the idea of STEM education and providing money to institutions wishing to implement it, so districts and schools are looking at this type of approach as a means to receive much needed funding. 

Why do you think STEM initiatives are important?

To me, STEM education is just a different way of teaching.  It goes away from the idea of the teacher being the center of knowledge within a classroom setting and provides techniques and tools for students to take control of their own learning and understanding.  Allowing students to apply their own learning to real-world problems and determining their own practical solutions to these problems, ensures student mastery of both the concepts taught and the techniques used to determine their solution.  At Skyline, we focus most of our STEM courses around the engineering design process and teaching students how to learn from using this process on the problems presented within the classroom.

Where do you think the future of STEM education will take us? What's next?

I think that STEM education as a whole has the ability to really impact education and change how we as educators conduct business.  The old "sit and get" method to education is outdated and does not apply in today's world.  Most innovative, creative professions embrace the idea of change and this is something education has struggled to do.  I feel that by having teachers tweak their instructional practices to better meet the needs of their students, that this will push students to learn, understand, and create.  This initiative could ultimately help the United States become a producer of students who can fill the jobs of both this century and next, and will help us create employees who are innovative, creative problem-solvers and developers of future technologies.

How have you used SparkFun parts/resources in your school?

Currently we have used SparkFun parts and resources within a few of our STEM classrooms. Some of the senior design groups also purchased items such as the Arduino Leonardo boards, servos, etc. to use for their final engineering projects. Also, we recently purchased over $2,500 worth of equipment for use in developing an Advanced Engineering electronics couse that we will offer next year.  This course will teach students some of the basics of making circuits and understanding electronics, utilizing materials purchased directly from SparkFun.  

Anything else we should know? About yourself, your program, STEM, or anything else you want to let the world know?

Because we were able to create and establish the Skyline High School STEM Academy over the past 5 years, the St. Vrain Valley School District received a federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant that will provide over $16.6 million in an effort to create a pipeline of STEM education for its students, beginning with our elementary schools, through the middle schools, and into Skyline High School.  This grant will also help us to create an "Innovation Center" that is an extension of the high school, a place where business can partner with students to work on real-world problems, teaching students both technical and manufacturing skills, and possibly creating new products for the businesses to use.  For more information about this award, please visit this website.  

Comments 17 comments

  • scicior / about 11 years ago / 6

    Wow.... when I saw that this article was about teacher appreciation, and that there were 14 comments, I thought I'd end up feeling good about trying to promote getting kids to actually do things, not argue about spelling, abbreviations, etc. I'm sorry, I didn't even notice the abbreviation, potential spelling mistakes, etc, and that makes me a sad panda.... and I HATE pandas! I wish we could just focus our energy on promoting engineering without shunning those who have trouble communicating.... - Steve

    • Kamiquasi / about 11 years ago / 1

      Yeah, things did get derailed a bit - but, man, what's your problem with pandas!? :P

      I thought it was an interesting interview and figured I'd check what would be similar programs in NL. Turns out, there aren't too many out there - most are third party initiatives that may or may not have casual ties to local schools. Basically you generally only encounter the TE bits, at least on the level discussed here, if you choose an education-toward-career that happens to deal with them. The government's been hammering on getting more education in the STEM fields, though, so hopefully there'll be improvement there soon. Until then, I'm glad SFE (and Adafruit, Arduino, etc.) is (are) helping bring a lot to the table, especially in making things easily accessible.

      As an aside, in NL it was an ordinary day - our 'teacher appreciation day' isn't until October 5th(!) Teacher's Day/Week around the globe

  • R0B0T1CS / about 11 years ago / 1

    Will the building include an OH logo on the side? With this post, I would say it's headed towards being completely open.

  • Yvan256 / about 11 years ago * / 1


    edit: it's short for "national", but frankly in my opinion it doesn't help at all to shorten such words.

    • but frankly in my opinion

      Duly noted.

      While we're at it, I'm gonna go ahead and put it out there that I don't really enjoy fax machines, playing baseball, or the more recent chewy versions of most hard candies popular in the 1990s, such as Sprees.

      • Yvan256 / about 11 years ago / 1

        If you guys could stop with the pointless sarcasm for a minute and understand that english is not everybody's first language, you would realize that "Nat'l" is not as widely-used as you think.

        I expected more respect from Sparkfun employees...

        • Sorry 'bout that. No personal disrespect intended. I spend a lot of time keeping an eye on the comments around here, and generally try to avoid inciting actual bad feelings. It's been a long, weird day here (weirder than usual, even), and this whole thread just struck me as already kind of far out into weird internet comment argument territory.

          (I'm also entirely sincere in my disdain for chewy Sprees. I do appreciate teachers, though.)

        • neurdy / about 11 years ago / 3

          Sarcasm aside, the abbreviated form of national is widely used throughout the United States and is explained just below the picture in this blog post. While we actually are sensitive to the fact that English is not necessarily the first language for our community, we do anticipate that any confusing language, humor, or cultural references will probably be researched by one's preferred Internet search engine. In this particular case we did not feel that using the abbreviated form of national detracted from the overall message which is to show our support for educators.

        • I think maybe I am programmed to write "Nat'l" from writing about our National Tour (or Nat'l Tour) on a nearly daily basis.

          Brennen is our resident sarcastic IT guy. It's in his blood. I'm certain he meant no disrespect.

          And sorry for the confusion over the whole "National vs. Nat'l" thing.

    • aboe / about 11 years ago / 1

      It help's to get the headline on one line. ;)

      • Yeah - just trying to shorten an already wordy title!

      • Yvan256 / about 11 years ago / 1

        The Web is not print. You can't assume anything, especially font sizes.

        • sgrace / about 11 years ago / 1

          Powerpoint rule: If a series of words wraps around and one word is on one line, that is bad styling. This applies to titles as well.

          • Yvan256 / about 11 years ago / 1

            A simple solution would be for the CMS to automatically insert a non-breaking space between the last two words of a title.

        • Kamiquasi / about 11 years ago / 1

          I think it's less of an assumption and more a case of statistics. If the statistics say that the majority of viewership is from people who browse without text scaling tweaks, with the appropriate fonts, and browsers that all behave pretty well, then you can take that statistic and decide just fine that when the line with "International" wraps in those circumstances, but "Int'l" does not, it would be a reasonable change for that majority. The worst thing that can happen is either it still wraps (text larger), or there's whitespace at the end of the line (text smaller) and in either case the viewer may wonder why it wasn't simply spelled out fully.

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