What's the most important part of engineering?
It just might be asking questions. This year, as always, we asked our teachers, volunteers, and board members to give us feedback on TAME programs. We received 76 impassioned responses to the end of year survey, and the message is clear: TAME programs are working, but we need to make some refinements.
Here’s what we took away from 76 responses: first, how can we keep the State STEM Competitions going? Second, what test structure will be most effective for the Divisional and State STEM Competitions? And third, how can we make sure that TAME programs focus most on underserved students, even as we welcome all interested students to participate?
The responses and suggestions reminded us that TAME’s work is its own kind of Engineering Design Challenge. As TAME students and teachers know, the Engineering Design Challenge is a collaborative exercise that encourages students to approach problems like engineers: brainstorming solutions, creating solutions, testing those solutions, and refining them. The challenges are fun for everyone, but they also teach an important lesson: that the process of creating, testing, and refining is at the heart of the scientific process, and that the questions are just as important as the answers.
As we approach the next year in this spirit of process improvement, we thank you for your thoughtful input. Read on for details on how we are refining TAME programs based on your feedback.
Experiment 1: State STEM is back!
We are happy to announce that, as of now, the State STEM Competition will continue, with a few important changes.
As you know, our proposal to replace the state competition with more regional competitions was developed in response to a number of logistical challenges, including the problem of keeping students safe during overnight stays.
To address these challenges, we are implementing a two-year pilot project for TAME's STEM Competitions. Students will travel to the State Competition location and be put up at a local youth camp. They will sleep in air-conditioned dormitories with bunk beds rather than sharing hotel rooms, and will have an opportunity to explore all campground activities. We are working out the details and will keep the updates coming in our monthly newsletter.
“Having a competition that goes beyond the local level is a huge motivator for our kids who live in an isolated West Texas community. Even though they know not everyone will qualify, they are encouraged to give their best effort, and they do.” – West Texas
“You need to find a way to have a STATE competition. The prestige of going to state was amazing… those experiences are worth it. The kids and the parents felt so proud - even if we hadn't won anything, they would have left feeling amazing that they got to go… Your organization offering an opportunity like State competition is a game changer and fulfills the promise of TAME - to encourage more minorities to seek engineering education.” – Lubbock
“I understand the reasons for wanting/needing to do away with the State Competition, but I would like the TAME Board to re-consider this decision. Due in part to our football/sports-based culture in this state, when a student has done well enough to receive an invitation to "go to State" it carries a level of prestige and instills a level of confidence in those future leaders that will stay with them, hopefully, throughout their lives. So when TAME invites students to "go to State," it gives students an opportunity to achieve something on a level they may not get to see in a non-sports related environment.” – Houston
Experiment 2: Updating Competition tests to the UIL format
At STEM Competitions last year, we experimented with offering different tests to test a wider range of subject matter. We understand that they were difficult to prepare for and frustrating to take. We agree that the tests need to be updated, and are now working with UIL test writers to implement the format that is used by UIL academics.
Practice tests and details on test content will be shared in monthly newsletters, via email to registered TAME teachers, and on the TAME Facebook page.
Experiment 3: Changing TAME Club registration requirements to reach more under-served students
Many responses suggested that TAME Club structures be changed to encourage more under-served students to participate.
“We really need to see how we can focus more on making TAME more directed toward UNDER-REPRESENTED minorities." – TAME Teacher, Austin
TAME Clubs have traditionally been open to all students, and we want to continue to encourage participation from all interested students. However, we also believe that the success of our least advantaged students benefits all of us. Accordingly, we want to make sure that TAME Clubs are truly diverse, and that our resources are directed first at the students with the least access to educational opportunities.
“[A]t the end of it, just looking at it, it’s like, wow. That’s what we did, and it’s something that everyone contributed to… It’s not just for GT [gifted and talented], for people at the top of their class. I think the perspective is that we are here to help people open doors that they might not otherwise be able to open.” - Rachael M., TAME student, Southwest Engineering TEAM (SWET)
What does this mean for TAME Clubs, exactly? Here are the specifics:
- Any group with 8 students can register a TAME Club.
- However, in order to be invited to participate in the STEM Competitions (Divisional and State), your TAME Club will need to meet the following requirements:
- Have at least 8 participating students grades 6-12
- Club must represent a rural area or Title I school
- If you are not a Title I campus AND you are in Austin, DFW, Houston, San Antonio, or the suburbs around these large urban centers, we ask that 50% of the students recruited in these clubs:
- would be part of the first generation in their family to graduate from college
- or would qualify for reduced fees or free/reduced meals
We know that some of our existing TAME Clubs won’t yet meet these requirements, and we see this as a big part of the ongoing Design Challenge. If your club doesn't meet the 50% requirement, what specific strategies can we employ to reach more as-yet-underserved students, and bring them into TAME Clubs? If your club doesn't have enough participating students, can you combine resources with other TAME clubs in your area? This outreach gets to the heart of TAME’s mission, and your help in identifying and implementing these strategies is essential.
Looking ahead to the next forty years
Our 40th anniversary year is almost over. As we enter the next forty years, we think it’s a good time to check back in with TAME’s mission:
To enable Texas students to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) by:
- Creating partnerships among educators, industry, government and families to inform, educate and motivate students
- Implementing classroom and extra-curricular programs and activities
- Focusing on populations that remain underrepresented in fields of STEM
- Promoting diversity in STEM careers
Are TAME programs working? Absolutely. Can they be made even better? Always. Thank you for being part of the great Engineering Design Challenge that is TAME!