Regional STEM Spotlight: Oak Ridge Schools

The City of Oak Ridge was founded on STEM.  The U.S. government created Oak Ridge as a secret city, built as part of the Manhattan Project. The city’s many rich STEM assets include the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex, and a host of industries which work in high technology and scientific fields.  STEM jobs in Oak Ridge range from nuclear safety to energy infrastructure to chemical engineering, as well as cybersecurity, nanotechnology, emergency preparedness, and so much more.  Oak Ridge is also pioneering work in the development of low-cost carbon fiber is on the way.

Oak Ridge Schools, which proudly boasts a picture of an atom as its school symbol, prides itself on the region’s STEM assets and aims to prepare its students for the variety of STEM careers in the area. The district’s goal is to become a leader in STEM education through continuation and expansion of Oak Ridge’s already well-regarded educational opportunities for students along with additional enhancements to technology infrastructure, professional development and access to devices, which will place dynamic digital content in the hands of each student.

STEM content

Students depend on strong K-12 content in STEM in order to be prepared for college and careers. In Oak Ridge, STEM begins in elementary school, in which students investigate the world through inquiry in many ways. Even preschool students investigate questions, come up with predictions and learn about the world around them.

Oak Ridge middle school students can take high school level courses in mathematics and world languages. Consistently, 100% of Oak Ridge middle schoolers who take Algebra 1 score proficient and advanced on the state end of course exam. Engineering coursework is offered at both middle schools and continues in high school.

High school courses are rigorous and varied. In science, students can study biology, chemistry, physics (electricity and magnetism as well as mechanics), and environmental science. Students can learn computer programming and continue their engineering studies. Oak Ridge High school not only offers AP Calculus AB, BC and statistics, but it also offers multivariate calculus, differential equations and linear algebra in a partnership with Tennessee Technological University.

STEM content, however, extends beyond what is typically considered STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. In Oak Ridge, we believe that STEM depends upon skills in communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, so any course that develops those skills can be considered STEM. Communication is developed through programs and content areas such as English Language Arts, journalism, visual communications, broadcasting, Web design, world languages, and civics. Creativity is developed in orchestra, band, 2-D and 3-D art, and digital design. We also have teachers from all content areas who enjoy integrating traditional STEM content into their courses.

Student Partnerships

Oak Ridge High School students have opportunities to participate in wetlands research through the Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization. They conduct computational or experimental scientific research with scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For example, Oak Ridge computer science students learn from National Institute of Computational Sciences professionals on the Krakken supercomputer. Students participate in Materials Sciences camp through the University of Tennessee Knoxville. They take dual enrollment courses in animation motion graphics, civil engineering, robotics, digital design, ceramics, and STEM research. They participate in health sciences clinical internships at the Methodist Medical Center and other local healthcare facilities, including veterinary clinics. They participate in simulated business environments and work-based learning. Oak Ridge High School graduates receive industry certifications in welding, dual credit towards their post-secondary welding credentials, and have first rights into post-secondary training in welding.

Oak Ridge students often finish well in competitions such as Siemens, Science Bowl, Scholar’s Bowl, Math Bowl, FIRST Lego League and Robotics, National Chemistry Olympiad, and many others. Oak Ridge Schools also participates in international exchange programs in Japan, Russia, Germany and France in order to develop worldwide relationships and understanding.

STEM Coaches

In every school, from preschool to high school, Oak Ridge has teacher leaders who act as STEM coaches to share STEM-related teaching techniques and opportunities with their colleagues. STEM coaches themselves participate in professional development related to inquiry-based and problem-based learning and receive one-on-one coaching on integrating those themes into their classrooms and buildings.

Digital Technology

STEM isn’t only about having a device, but using technological tools helps engage students and opens doors to learning up-to-date world realities and opportunities. For example, one STEM coach who is also a middle school social studies teacher recently addressed student misconceptions about Africa by having students tour Africa via Google Earth. His students also used Minecraft to create a project about Mesopotamia. Other teachers use devices for math intervention with Dreambox or TenMarks or to do a fun quiz review with Kahoot.

Oak Ridge Schools is currently partnering with digital technology providers Dreambox, TenMarks, Study Island, Edgenuity, Edutyping, and Discovery Education.  Discovery Education is the leading provider of digital content and professional development for K-12 classrooms, and the partnership is to create authentic digital learning environments in classrooms district-wide. Through the six-year partnership, Discovery Education will support Oak Ridge Schools’ plan to implement a 1:1 learning initiative with engaging digital content and sustained, customized professional development.

STEM is about College and Career Readiness

Ultimately, Oak Ridge believes in STEM in order to prepare students for college and careers. As the community itself has high-tech, highly skilled jobs right next door, the schools are essential starting grounds to supply those jobs with highly-prepared Tennessee students. Oak Ridge Schools thus carries on the tradition of energizing minds since 1943.

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