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Georgia Fuels STEM Education With 'Innovation' Grants

A new batch of "Innovation Fund" grants announced by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal features a strong emphasis on improving STEM learning. The projects to win support in this third round include building "computational thinking" into high school STEM curricula, developing hands-on STEM learning units pegged to environmental issues with the state's coastal region, and expanding a STEAM-themed school (with an "A" for the arts) into the high school grades.

"The Innovation Fund empowers local communities to work together and think creatively about how to best address their educational needs," said Gov. Deal, a Republican, in a press release issued yesterday.

This latest round of nine grants total about $4.5 million. In all, the state's Innovation Fund, developed with support from Georgia's $400 million federal Race to the Top award, will devote $20 million to a variety of projects focused on STEM learning, improving teacher effectiveness, expanding charter schools with "special characteristics. All the grants involve partnerships between school districts or charter schools with other entities, such as postsecondary institutions, businesses, and nonprofit groups.

As we've noted before, improving STEM education has been an important theme in the Race to the Top plans of a number of winning states.

The STEM-focused grants announced this week in Georgia include:

• $431,000
Computational Thinking
Georgia Tech will work with Atlanta's Mays High School and other teachers in the Atlanta district to develop and implement a "systematic approach" to including computational thinking in STEM curricula.

• $703,000
Coastal Issues and STEM
Georgia Southern University, seven area research institutes, and six school districts will develop STEM learning units related to the environmental concerns with Georgia's coastal region.

• $677,000
Rockdale 21st Century Academy of Environmental Studies
The Rockdale County school district, in collaboration with Georgia Tech and AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination, a college-readiness program) will create a middle-grades magnet school that uses portfolio and project-based learning, with an emphasis on environmental science.

• $750,000
Expanding a STEAM School
Drew Charter School in Atlanta, Georgia Tech's Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (and the Georgia State University School of Music) will expand their STEAM-focused school, now serving grades K-8, to include grades 9-12.

• $52,000
STEAM Makeover
The Greene County school district, Georgia Tech, and the University of Georgia will develop a proposal to convert a traditional public school into a STEAM-themed charter school.

I recently explored the notion of STEAM education in an EdWeek story. The article explained how momentum is building to explore ways that the intersection of the arts with STEM can enhance student engagement and learning, and even help unlock creative thinking and innovation.

A fourth and final round of Innovation Fund grants from Georgia will be announced in January.

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