A collaboration between three school divisions in the Charlottesville area received a $30,000 donation Friday from an international research and development nonprofit to continue work to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — education.
Heather Arquitt, a principle research scientist with Battelle presented the check on behalf of the company’s charitable foundation, to Chad Ratliff, director of instructional programs for Albemarle County Public Schools. The money will go toward the Invest in Innovation grant that public school systems in Charlottesville and Albemarle and Fluvanna counties have been involved in since January 2015.
The three-year, $3 million grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, also involves the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Virginia. Students and classes taking part in the grant program have access to original drawing designs of inventions housed by the Smithsonian archives so that they can recreate their own models from laser cutters, 3D printers and any other resources they have available.
The funds from the federal grant go toward the printers, cutters, computers and professional development for teachers using resources in this program.
The Investing in Innovation program is a “natural progression” from the increasing emphasis on the maker curriculum in schools, according to a 2015 news release from the schools when the grant was announced.
The check was presented to Ratliff at Burley Middle School, where an eighth-grade engineering elective class has been taking part in recreating the models in the invention kits, which include several schematics from the Smithsonian.
Ratliff said the $30,000 donation will go toward the program’s general budget.
Arquitt said Battelle likes to contribute to communities in which it has offices, in this case its Albemarle office. One of the appealing aspects of the Invest in Innovation program is its real-world applications.
“Not only does it bring in science and technology and engineering, it also brings in history and other aspects where the kids get a real well-rounded learning experience,” Arquitt said.
Gabrielle Schoppa, who teaches at Burley Middle, has students in her engineering class working on the invention kits.
On Friday, the students were working on a model of the linear generator, which was discovered in the 1830s. The platforms were created from laser cutters and the solenoids from 3D printers in the classroom.
Schoppa’s students have made other models in the invention kits, as well. The linear generator is the third of six inventions to recreate.
“It’s exciting, I think, for them to know that this discovery is pretty much the basis for how we still make electricity today that runs to our homes, and they’re learning the difference between alternating current and direct current, and they actually see it when they make it.”
“It’s cool … because it’s the same way but we’re using the modern machines that we have now to make it,” said A.J. Wood, a student in the engineering class.
Ratliff said this type of program is important because it exposes students to STEM education and how it can be applied. In this case, it’s by recreating inventions that were once state of the art but are now possible to build within their own classrooms.
“Once they learn the technology and how the insides of the technological devices that power our world work, it really empowers them to then think next, ‘well what can I make? What can I create?’” he said. “And we see this as sort of an on-boarding process for students to see themselves as designers and creators and engineers, and in some cases, inventors.”