Booker T. Washington and Illinois: Partnering to Improve STEM Education

One student carefully cradles a live, tickling insect in the palm of his hand. Another makes a rubber ball from scratch using polymers. One budding engineer builds a contraption designed to protect an egg, then she tests it by dropping it from a balcony. And yet another student forms a hypothesis about which surface will have greater friction to slow down a rolling object, then tests his hypothesis.

These are just some of the innovative, hands-on activities students from Booker T. Washington STEM Academy (BTW) have been given the opportunity to do over the last several months as a result of the school's partnership with the University of Illinois. All of the above activities were designed/provided by University units and projects in collaboration with the Champaign Unit 4 elementary school's teachers to provide its students with stimulating educational programs in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Highlighted below are a number of the Illinois units/projects currently partnering with BTW to provide outreach activities in STEM.

BTW students build protective apparatus for their egg.
BTW students building a protective apparatus for their egg.


Professor Pat Shapley, with the help of Uni High students, performs weekly chemistry experiments with different grade levels. In a recent Egg Drop lesson, Illinois Chemistry undergraduates supervised BTW students who designed and built protective apparatuses for their eggs, then dropped them from a balcony to test their designs.

College of Applied Health Sciences

Illinois' College of Applied Health and Sciences is working with BTW on numerous projects emphasizing health and wellness. Heading up AHS's outreach to the school is Assistant Dean Renique Kersh, who serves as the chair of BTW's Health and Wellness Committee. Of the collaboration with BTW, she writes, "A highlight for me is having the opportunity to connect AHS students, who are passionate about health and well-being, to a school that is dynamic and is filled with not only great kids, but fantastic teachers and staff." Following are some of the BTW projects on which AHS has collaborated.

  • BTW Wellness Fair. Illinois staff and students from a number of units, including AHS, presented exhibits on safety and nutrition at BTW's Wellness Fair as part of the school's health and wellness emphasis.
  • Flash Workout. In a partnership between AHS, Illinois' Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, and Northeast Elementary School, BTW students participated in this health and wellness activity. Video clip
  • Go, Slow, and Whoa. This program uses posters to educate kids about healthy foods they should eat a lot of (Go), foods they can eat sometimes (Slow), and foods they should try to avoid (Whoa).
  • Read and Run. In this after-school BTW program coordinated by two AHS students, students read books on health and wellness topics, have a healthy snack, and "train" for a 1K race the kids and their adult volunteer/mentors will run in the 2012 Illinois Marathon on April 28, 2012.

EnLiST: Entrepreneurial Leadership in STEM Teaching and Learning

EnLiST’s professional development in chemistry, physics, and physical sciences provides BTW teachers with cutting-edge content knowledge, pedagogy, and entrepreneurial capacity so they can transform teaching and learning in their classrooms, school, and district.

BTW students examine bee hive during Entomology presentation.
BTW students examine bee hive at a station supplied by Pollinatarium staff during a recent presentation by Entomology.


This collaborative lesson about insects involved hands-on learning stations manned by Entomology staff and students. BTW students not only learned about insects, but got to see them up close and touch or hold some of them.

Family Resiliency Center

As a part of BTW’s health and wellness emphasis, Family Resiliency Center director Barbara Fiese will present food demonstrations on good nutrition. The parental involvement component will look at the economy of food, possibly using BTW’s Community Garden.

I-STEM Education Initiative

During BTW’s transition to a STEM academy, I-STEM helped with building design and curriculum planning. In 2012, I-STEM will collaborate with BTW on these STEM projects:

  • Summer 2012 Science Camp
  • Technology Club
  • Field trips to Illinois STEM projects
  • Elementary Science Olympiad team
Urbana Middle School student helps BTW student during a hands-on project were students used polymers to make their own rubber ball.
Urbana Middle School student helps BTW student during a hands-on project.

Nano-CEMMS: The Center for Nanoscale Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Systems

NanoCEMMS faculty introduced BTW and Urbana Middle School students to nanotechnology: how scientists and engineers work to manipulate matter at the atomic or molecular level. In a recent cutting-edge engineering project, EnLiST teachers and Nano-CEMMS partnered to create a lesson where BTW students used polymers to make rubber balls, then did hands-on activities to learn about force, friction, and gravity.


BTW student uses flashlight to study color spectrum.
BTW student uses flashlight in a darkroom to study color spectrum in white light.

Physics of Living Cells

In this collaboration, Illinois staff and students from the Center for the Physics of Living Cells used hands-on learning activities to teach BTW students principles about how microscopes work and how the color spectrum is used in computer monitors.

Technology Night

BTW’s recent Technology Night involved the following Illinois projects/units:

Public Engagement Symposium

As a result of its many partnerships with different University units, BTW will be presenting a poster in the 2012 Public Engagement Symposium describing the many outreach activities provided by its many partners. The Symposium will take place from 3:00–6:00 pm on April 18, 2012, at the ARC. BTW's Public Engagement Symposium Poster
More: Booker T. Washington, K-6 Outreach