The following is from the Aug. 21, 2008, edition of The Dallas Morning News.
By ALLISON WISK
The Dallas Morning News
To combat a dearth of engineering students at the university level, the staff of Southern Methodist University's Infinity Project sought to capture young minds early to engage them in a love of science and math.The Infinity Project has drawn acclaim for its high school curriculum, which places emphasis on the real world and innovative applications of math and science in engineering.
So staff decided to expand to the middle-school level, piloting the program in 2005. A weeklong training program last week prepared teachers to implement the 2008-09 program.
Participants gathered in Burleson Park to fire off Estes Alpha II rockets – a high-flying entry point into the practical application of what is taught to the students.
"We really want to make sure that the teachers are well-armed to do this," said Tammy Richards, associate dean of SMU's School of Engineering. "One of our new modules is rocketry and propulsion. The kids live for things like that. When the teachers were there with the rockets in the park, they were just so on fire and so engaging."
Starting the school year off with a bang sent a powerful message to the teachers.
"In designing these modules, we said we have to include the science and the math but make it hands-on as well," said Rosemary Aguilar, director of professional development and curriculum for The Infinity Project. "We want to give them the opportunity to see and experience it."
Revealing the science behind the products students use is the key to exciting them about the program.
"We said, 'Let's teach them the theory and the overall learning behind what they do and see in their own lives,' " Ms. Aguilar said. "There's that direct link and that understanding of why things work the way they do. In terms of the rocket, why does it propel up and what's the math behind it?"
"It's all about the stuff in a kid's backpack and all the things they care about," Ms. Richards said. "What is the science and math behind an iPod or their cellphone?"
Translating the technical to a student's life can prevent disenfranchisement with science and math in school, Ms. Aguilar said.
That's the whole reason the Infinity Project was developed in 1999 as a partnership between Texas Instruments and SMU's Caruth Institute of Engineering Education.
"I think what we're finding is, if they haven't been exposed to a particular field when they get into high school, students receive through word of mouth or their peers that it's hard, or that it's too difficult," said Ms. Aguilar.
"If we catch them early on, we remove or avoid those misconceptions. We can say, 'Math is fun, math is exciting and here's why.' "
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