Seventh grade science students at Old Quarry Middle School will pilot a research vessel and land the Mars Rover in class this year, thanks to collaboration of local businesses and the School District 113A Educational Foundation.
The Three Rivers Education Partnership (TREPP) sent Old Quarry teachers Megan Ehn and Laura Rickerson back to school to learn how the JASON Project could enhance their science curriculum.
Although TREPP has offered this program for several years, it was only open to school districts in Grundy and Will counties. Since several members, including Citgo Lemont Refinery and Oxbow Midwest Calcining, are based in Lemont, representatives from Citgo appealed to the group to include District 113A teachers, and last year Ehn and Rickerson took them up on that.
After experiencing the JASON project firsthand, Ehn submitted a request for funding to the School District 113A Educational Foundation. The Foundation awarded the money as the first Oxbow STEM Grant, underwritten by the title sponsor as part of a $10,000 donation to the Foundation made last March.
Brett Wilshire, Oxbow plant manager, sits on the board of TREPP and wants to inspire young scientists in the community.
“Oxbow believes that improving math and science core competencies will result in a stronger local workforce, healthier economy and a more competitive country,” Wiltshire explained. Oxbow Midwest Calcining is a division of Oxbow Carbon LLC.
The JASON Project is an online curriculum that introduces students to real-time scientific research. It provides a multi-media experience teaching an inquiry-based approach to learning. The JASON curriculum includes several modules covering physics, geology, ecology and weather.
Ehn has already introduced some of the videos for the Terminal Velocity unit, and her students are excited to do more. The students especially enjoyed a video featuring Kobie Boykins, an engineer with NASA’s jet propulsion lab.
“They think they have a handle on it, but we’ll see what happens in the lab,” she said with a smile. The students will test their understanding of forces and motion as they pilot a research vessel in computer simulation.
Later in the year students will explore a space unit including a Mars Rover experience. Eighth graders will explore the Resilient Planet unit as part of the ecology curricula.
The Oxbow STEM Grant targets programs that focus on the development of science, technology, engineering and math topics. “STEM is the next wave in education,” said Ehn, “and now we are at the forefront thanks to this grant.”
The wheels are already turning on another proposal that Ehn hopes to submit this fall. If money were no object, she said she would love to have a dedicated tablet lab with its own server, allowing her to take the entire physics lab online.
“Oxbow Carbon LLC has a strong tradition of supporting communities in which we operate,” Wiltshire said. “Through the creation of the Oxbow Grant, Oxbow Midwest Calcining is proud to help the Lemont area by funding additional math and science curriculums in the local schools.”
The Foundation provides a vehicle for businesses to fund school programs and resources.
“It’s wonderful to have businesses in our community that feel the responsibility and want to support our local schools. We are happy to help make that connection,” said Foundation president Mara Tunzi.
Foundation members hope to bring more businesses into the fold by offering two opportunities to underwrite a grant, at the $5,000 and $10,000 levels.
Last year the Foundation awarded $42,000 in grants to district staff. The Foundation raises funds through business and personal donations. The group also hosts a large fundraising event in February. For more information about the SD 113A Educational Foundation, visit www.SD113AFoundation.org.
Editor's note: The information in this story is from a press release from the School District 113A Educational Foundation.
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