School board approves additional funds for STEM teaching tools

File photo: Nancy Thrower of District 4, listens during the Marion County School Board workshop in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted November 10, 2022 | By Allen Barney

Marion County fifth-grade teachers and their students will soon be getting more customized tools and curriculum to encourage hands-on learning in the important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subject areas.

The Marion County School Board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to amend an agreement with Accelerate Learning Inc. to would supply Hands-on Kits and professional learning for all fifth-grade teachers within the district.

The original agreement approved in September was for $125,000 for STEM curriculum that is more customized, hands-on and Florida standards aligned. On Tuesday, the board agreed to amend that agreement and increase the amount to $474,500.

The new deal allows for the purchase of more Hands-on Kits and STEMscopes online curriculum that will help teachers adopt more effective STEM instruction practices. The Hands-On kits have reusable and consumable items for activities to increase student learning.

“The students will benefit from the STEMscopes curricula by engaging in real-world scientific hands-on activities that will assist and motivate them to become academically proficient in mathematics, science and technology,” according to the school district.

Board member Don Browning backed the amendment but said he wants to see more transparency moving forward with such monetary requests and not allow items to start out at one dollar amount and continuously increase.

“Going forward over the next 10 years, when we deal with items that start small and they get their foot in the door, we tend to have it expand and go into the consent agenda,’’ he said.

“It’s so important to have these things discussed by the personnel,” Browning continued. “In the best world possible, they would make these presentations on these big-ticket items and then we can educate the public as to what we’re doing as we go along. So often these start small, and they grow large and it isn’t bad, other than it can be better in terms of transparency and leaving a lasting legacy.”

Board member Nancy Thrower said the board should be being patient and await the results of these new programs.

“We start with these curriculum kits and working so hard, but when you have 47% of all third graders in the state of Florida not reading on grade level clearly we have a problem. I’m glad to see that were not going all-in the first year,” Thrower said.

“It’s important with these curriculums that we see how responsive the kids are to it and how the teachers like it and how they see the benefit of the students being engaged,’’ she said. “What I loved about this one is the hands-on aspect, and that’s what makes kids enjoy learning.”

Board Vice-Chair Allison Campbell initially had concerns about the program due to its focus on digital learning but said she has come around to the potential of the program.

“I learned this is an actual tool for the teachers as opposed to something the students are using,’’ she said. “As Mrs. Thrower mentioned, I understand how this is almost a pilot program when you start it in the hands of a few teachers. You’re able to see the benefit of the results when they are utilizing these tools and resources.

“That’s the spark that lights the flame,’’ she continued, “so if other people can then say, ‘That is working well with your students and you are seeing these gains and maybe it would work for my students as well’. The hope is that once these tools and resources get in the hands of these teachers, then they can utilize it and it is not a recurring expense year-after-year in a consent agenda.”