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Innovation leads to STEM awards

Four local educators who are using innovative techniques to teach and inspire students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields recently were recognized by the Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition (MMSC) and the Monsanto Company.

Receiving the STEM Innovator Award were Daniel Barton, technology and engineering teacher at John Burroughs; Tracie Summerville, Rockwood Summit High chemistry teacher and co-sponsor of the Renewable Fuels Project; Clifford Amen, technology teacher at Parkway West; and Mark McAllister, who teaches Introduction to Engineering Design at Lafayette High and who was featured in the Dec. 17 issue of West Newsmagazine.

Barton was selected for his role in sponsoring the Super Mileage Vehicle Challenge. To make cars more environmentally friendly, Barton and his team create biodiesel from vegetable oil, a byproduct of the school’s kitchen. In 2008, he entered the only car powered with biodiesel fuel. Since then, in a collaborative effort with the science department, he has ramped up production and has supplied fuel to other teams competing at the state event, along with fuel used to power the school’s lawn tractor.

“I’ve always been a problem solver, and I encourage my students to do the same … to find ways to apply their knowledge of math and science to more efficiently complete a task,” Barton explained.

Summerville developed the Authentic Science Research component to allow students to learn in the same manner that STEM professionals do. Summerville’s program teaches students – over the course of three years – how to research a topic, perform an experiment and write a research paper that ultimately will be presented in competitions.

“Many of my students have come back to report that they are much better prepared for college life in science, technology, engineering or math, simply because of their experience. Even those students who decided against a STEM career have commented that the preparation of research papers and presentations has put them above their peers at universities,” Summerville said.

Amen created the Engineering Enclave program, which involves students with autism in STEM educational development and growth experiences. Using Project Lead the Way curriculum, students design and execute engineering lessons for fourth- and fifth-graders. One exceptional senior PLTW student writes the lesson plans for the grade-school teacher. Students with autism from the school’s SSD program assemble the hardware kits for delivery to the grade schools.

“Helping kids that seem lost or forgotten in our school systems is what is most satisfying to me,” Amen said. “To me, watching a kid go from being a wallflower to a beautiful bouquet is probably the most satisfying thing there is.”

Each award winner received a $2,000 award to support their STEM teaching efforts.

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