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Prince George's County Schools Test Out Cloud STEM System

Maryland's Prince George's County Public Schools is expanding its relationship with global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin to tackle the STEM gap among its high school students. In this latest chapter the county's Division of Academics and Office of Information Technology (OIT) have teamed up with Lockheed Martin to test out a cloud-based STEM Innovation system with a small group of students in three high schools, Fairmont Heights, Suitland, and High Point.

The new system, set up by Lockheed Martin, combines Cisco Systems video telepresence equipment capabilities with other forms of collaboration to allow the students and teachers at each high school to share information, knowledge, and research with one another.

County CIO Vennard Wright described the application as a "combination of Skype and Facebook." Along with video and social collaboration, the application will provide a search algorithm to uncover relevant digital resources for students based on their interests. According to Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Sheila Collins, those resources include "cloud-enabled [district] STEM curriculum, high-definition multimedia recordings of discovery-based classroom experiences from mobile devices, and Lockheed Martin career simulation experiences, without physical or geographical limitations."

The intent is to allow students to interact among schools. "During the day, if the teacher is in front of one of the classes, students could raise their hands and send questions back and forth," Wright explained. "After hours, they could interact with other students to talk about the lesson or collaborate with teachers and ask questions about things they might not have understood during the day. They could access lesson plans to review what went on in class."

Over the summer, 10 students will test out the system in a program called Project STEAM, which will take place in the county's Office of Technology. "We've divided them into two teams," said Wright. Each team will work with an expert in each of the areas--science, technology, engineering, art, and math. To test out the system, they'll be competing against each other "to find the most innovative way to use the STEM cloud to solve a problem that's confronting Prince George's County." Examples, he added, might be how to increase high school graduation rates, decrease dropout rates, or raise test scores.

Along the way participants will receive mentoring from a local organization, Men Aiming Higher, on soft skills, such as interviewing for a job. They'll also work with each of the groups within the IT organization, including networking, Web, GIS, and others, "so everyone gets hands-on experience in each of those areas," Wright said. That's a vital piece of the program, he noted. "The reality is, you can have education and certification. But unless you have hands on expertise, your chances of getting a job are not as likely."

If the system works, the program will be expanded to students in seven schools in the fall.

"It is imperative that we emphasize [STEM] education in our school system," said County Executive Rushern Baker, III. "Lockheed Martin has been a great partner, and I want to thank them and the county Office of Information Technology for this innovative pilot that will help our children gain valuable technical experience. By offering their talent, expertise, and resources, Lockheed Martin and OIT will expose students to cutting-edge technology that will help to expand their thinking and perspective."

Lockheed Martin has a long history of working with the school district. In 2010, for example, the company worked with a Prince George's high school to bring engineers into STEM classes as mentors and industry advisors.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.