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Innovative education research will improve grade school performance in STEM subjects

A research partnership between Imperial and the University of Calgary has resulted in a specialized course that will improve achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), critical education areas for the energy industry.

If you’ve ever struggled to decipher the directions in a box of assemble-yourself furniture, been challenged to navigate with a road map, or even been frustrated by a particular piece in a jigsaw puzzle, you’ve experienced spatial reasoning.

Spatial reasoning is the ability to move and to imagine moving objects. Researchers at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education discovered that spacial reasoning is a fundamental building block to student success in STEM subjects, but was not part of the grade school curriculum.

Working with Imperial Oil’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (IOSTEM) initiative, the researchers developed the IOSTEM Academy to bring researchers, teachers and students together to explore ways to make STEM learning more accessible.

“Helping children develop their spatial reasoning ability will benefit their achievement in STEM subjects and future educational and career opportunities, regardless of socioeconomic status and abilities,” says Krista Francis, Director of the IOSTEM initiative.

The first IOSTEM Academy in 2012 brought together 22 students and three teachers, who worked in teams to design and build robots capable of sampling the conductivity of six different water stations. IOSTEM Academies continue to grow, and with them the capacity of STEM teachers to impact even more children. In 2015, IOSTEM Academies will reach more than 750 children across Alberta.