An online learning platform developed over the past decade by Chattanooga engineers Dane and Sheila Boyington to entice more students to pursue in-demand technical and science careers has expanded to three more states this fall.
The Learning Blade, an online curriculum developed by the Chattanooga-based Thinking Media, is being offered statewide to middle school students in Mississippi, Louisiana and Idaho for the first time in the current school year. Based upon the early success of the interactive online curriculum in Tennessee, Arkansas and other states, state leaders in the three new states for Learning Blade adopted the curriculum this fall to help boost future science and technology studies and careers.
Boeing, which helped to pilot Learning Blade in Alabama where hundreds of thousands of its online lessons have been completed, is backing a similar program in Louisianna where Boeing has other facilities and skilled talent needs.
"We are pleased to be a part of an initiative that will make such a timely impact on students by supporting Learning Blade," said Tina Watts, Boeing's global engagement community investor. "Our company relies on a highly trained workforce, and in order to build that pipeline, we believe students gaining exposure earlier to these STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] careers will provide that. Seeing the extreme success in Alabama encouraged us to consider this for Louisiana."
Studies have shown many students do not enter careers in technical and computer fields because they can't picture themselves in those jobs. Learning Blade will develop students' interest in high-demand careers by increasing awareness of these careers and by relating academic skills in science, technology, engineering and math to solving social issues that young students care about.
Learning Blade was created by the Chattanooga-based Thinking Media owned by the engineering-turned- entrepreneurial couple Sheila and Dane Boyington. After selling their first curriculum venture called KeyTrain nearly a decade ago, the Boyingtons began developing Learning Blade as an online curriculum to show students how STEM careers use the academics they are learning in school. Career videos, parent activities and 3D printing lessons are among the extra tools that Learning Blade offers middle school teachers the chance to use in the classroom or online through interactive video lessons and exercises.
Sheila Boyington, CEO of Thinking Media, said studies of Learning Blade programs in states like Tennessee and Arkansas show that after completing the online activities and other Learning Blade "missions" and courses, students say they are more than twice as likely to pursue a career as an engineer or a scientist. Knowledge of STEM career opportunities rose 71% through the program, Boyington said.
"STEM offers our students a chance to problem solve, to think critically, and ultimately to access high-wage, high-demand careers," Louisianna Superintendent Cade Brumley said. "A key step to engaging students in STEM work is to expose them to STEM careers, and Learning Blade is another tool in our teachers' toolboxes to do just that."
Boeing and LaSTEM are working with the LA Board of Regents, the LA Department of Education and the Foundation for East Baton Rouge School System to bring Learning Blade to Louisiana.
Parent company: Chattanooga-based Thinking Media
Creators: Dane and Sheila Boyington
Products: Online programs, videos, 3D printing and other instructional materials to help middle school students explore activities and see career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
States served:40 states have had some access to Learning Blade, including eight states where the program is offered statewide — Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Idaho, Mississippi and Louisiana.
In Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi, in collaboration with the state's Department of Education and with funding from the Governor's Emergency Education Response (GEER) Fund program, brought Learning Blade to the state. Learning Blade will be available at no charge to all middle schools in the state and schools can fill out the form at www.LearningBlade.com/MS.
"We are excited to help support the Learning Blade resource for Mississippi, which will be a great tool to expose students earlier to what computer science and cyber security careers really are and help show them what path to take sooner," said Sarah Lee, director of the School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi.
States are using some of their share of federal stimulus funds allocated to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to add online programs such as what Learning Blade offers.
Learning Blade provides an entertaining, game-based format online to entice students to pursue "missions" to solve challenges using both reading and science skills. In the process, program developers hope to both teach and excite more young people into engineering and technical studies and vocations where the United States is losing its once-dominant lead in the world.
"Learning Blade is a great addition to our initiatives to help improve student achievement in Mississippi, especially as they support core academics which helps increase proficiency," said Dr. Carey Wright, superintendent of education in Mississippi.". Students having a chance to see the relationship between these academics and careers will better prepare our future workforce,"
The Learning Blade system includes an online platform for educating middle school students about a wide variety of STEM and computer science careers. Learning Blade leads students though human-centered missions, and includes over 400 interactive online lessons, teacher lesson plans, and printable at-home activities for 5th to 9th graders, where students learn how exciting STEM and Computer Science careers help solve these.
To date, students have completed over 5 million online lessons in the Learning Blade platform. The program has been deployed in more than 40 states, include existing statewide efforts in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and South Carolina. New efforts have been forged with Idaho,
Earlier this year, Learning Blade also released a Chromebook app, the Learning Blade Backpack, which helps bridge the digital divide by enabling students to access and complete Learning Blade's interactive lessons, even with limited or no internet access.
"Learning Blade is a tool that can lower some of the barriers to entry for rural and underrepresented populations, making education technologies more accessible and inclusive for students who are interested in exploring STEM and computer science careers and technologies," said former Congressman Zach Wamp, who serves as board chair for Learning Blade.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340
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