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October 7, 2015
A group of prominent Philadelphia area non-profit organizations, including the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the University City Science Center, the Franklin Institute, the Independence Seaport Museum, and the Philadelphia Education Fund, have joined together to attempt to create a new urban high school curriculum framework that unites the formal classroom to informal learning environments.
The partners hope to develop this curriculum framework with broad public input that adds arts and cultural studies to an integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum to provide students with a deeper and more practical understanding of the world around them.
“We will start from scratch. All formal courses will be redesigned based on a set of design principles relevant to students in the 21st Century. The effort to blend the formal and informal worlds of education into a single integrated curriculum is unprecedented. But it’s a potentially big prize for students. They will be able to learn important and relevant content from a wealth of resources not part of the traditional high school experience.” said F. Joseph Merlino, President of The 21st Century for STEM Education (21PSTEM), who is leading the project.
Known as The Greater Philadelphia STEAM Initiative, its launch was made possible by a $150,000 Catalyst Fund grant from the Barra Foundation. The goal is eventually to raise $3.25 million to complete the four-year project. The partners hope this blended course of study will better motivate students, increase their achievement, reduce dropout rates, and encourage them to pursue STEAM-related post-secondary studies and related careers.
The Greater Philadelphia STEAM Initiative builds on prior National Science Foundation grants and a current $25 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Egypt. The goal of the USAID grant, now in its fourth year, is to design and implement an integrated STEM curriculum in new Egyptian high schools as a model for the country. The USAID technical work is being led by 21PSTEM, the Franklin Institute, and the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES) based in Cleveland, Ohio. All three organizations are involved in the Greater Philadelphia STEAM Initiative.
The Initiative will employ an 18-step curriculum design process similar to what is being used in Egypt, but with the important difference that the informal education world will be included. Participants in the Philadelphia STEAM design process will include representatives from area arts, cultural, educational and business communities. Once the curriculum is designed, the partners plan to launch it in two to three public high schools in the Philadelphia area. The high schools are yet to be determined.