We’re happy to be joined by Pinellas STEM Academies at Gulf Coast Maker & Comic Con, this year, showcasing the inventive spirit of Pinellas County youth!  Laura Spence, K-12 STEM Specialist for the Pinellas County School District, who will be sharing a workshop at the event,  has led the development of 270 after-school STEM Academies, impacting more than 5,400 students. She also hosts an award-winning STEM television series, WPDS Ch14 Science Rocks Pinellas that can be found on YouTube, which highlights STEM concepts and events throughout the state of Florida.

GCMCC: How did the STEM Academy program develop?
LS: With Pinellas County serving as the seventh largest out of 67 districts in Florida, in 2013, it became apparent to our school board, superintendent, teachers and parents that the need to offer STEM after-school opportunities was a missing component within the district. The development of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary after-school STEM program led to the creation of a K-12 STEM Specialist position, charged with the task of creating curriculum, utilizing business partners, and involving all stakeholders with the foundational goal of engaging students in investigations focused around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program was named the “Pinellas County STEM Academies,” and was developed to serve second through twelfth grade students to help them carve out a path to taking accelerated STEM courses in their future.
GCMCC: What is the purpose of the STEM Academy program?
LS: The goal of the Pinellas County STEM Academies is to increase STEM opportunities for students to take accelerated STEM courses in their future and explore STEM career paths. The STEM Academies offer students opportunities to conduct hands-on STEM investigations, explore careers in STEM, improve teambuilding and leadership skills, learn about business planning and interact with community business partners.
The creation of the STEM Academies provides a solution to addressing STEM content through the use of an extended school day. Engineering design challenges completed by students in the program involve a series of hands-on activities with a real-world approach to experiencing STEM content. Each phase allows teams of students to use their background knowledge to explore STEM concepts, build upon those experiences, assess their current conceptual understanding, and evaluate their progress of solving a real-world problem.
GCMCC: During the Gulf Coast Maker and Comic Con 2018 what will you be addressing during your workshop?
LS: My workshop will be held in the UP building, Room 156 at 11am. During my workshop, participants will complete two STEM hands-on challenges and create a STEM comic strip all while learning about the PCS STEM Academy program and the engineering design process that we use on a daily basis. Each participant will walk away with some STEM freebees! Target Audience: Elementary/middle school students and their families.
GCMCC: How can we learn more and connect with you?
LS: To learn more about the Pinellas County Schools STEM Academies, please visit my district STEM website http://www.pcsb.org/STEM. You can email me at Spencela@pcsb.org. Follow me on Twitter @STEM_Chick_FL and Instagram stem_chick

Enjoy hands on fun and learning at the Pinellas STEM Academies workshop on March 24 at Gulf Coast Maker & Comic Con! Register to share what you make, or get your free tickets to attend by clicking the image below!

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