When seventh-grade teachers instruct students about chemical reactions and precipitates, they supplement their instruction with labs. Baking soda and calcium chloride mix with water to create a solid and a gas, and students calculate the speed of the process and formula for the resulting chemical using equations.
But what if the teacher didn’t have the background to explain why the precipitate formed—and was, in fact, just filling in from another department? For that matter, what if the school didn’t have any lab facilities at all?
Rural schools face different problems than urban schools when it comes to improving their instruction in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Many of the issues are based in financial constraints but take on different forms than they do in similarly strapped urban districts. To help these schools, administrators from a consortium of rural communities have found new ways to make STEM classes better for teachers and students, both through their own ingenuity and by reaching out to other organizations.
In the 2010-2011 school year, rural students made up about a quarter of all students enrolled in public schools in the United States. These rural districts tend to be less wealthy than urban or suburban ones, so facilities and infrastructure are limited. Transportation costs are higher because students live farther away. Fewer students are enrolled in each school, which means that, when administrators apply for federal grants to pay for technology and special education classes, they don’t have enough clout to make a difference. While the educators don’t necessarily strive to send every kid to college, they are working hard to give students a sufficient understanding of STEM topics as a baseline for future work and education.