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One Spark Education Award-Winning Program Begins Expansion

Bonnie Zerr

An innovative engineering-teaching program for elementary students is expanding after winning an education award at Jacksonville's One Spark festival.

Growin’GEERS, is a program for children to explore engineering concepts using critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The program won at One Spark festival’s Education Awards sponsored by the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership.

Deborah Gianoulis, president and CEO of the Schultz Center, says the center’s primary mission is to improve the quality of teaching.

During an appearance on WJCT's “First Coast Connect,” Alex McCaffrey, founder of Growin’GEERS, and Deborah Gianoulis, president and CEO of the Schultz Center, talked about the benefits of the teaching program.

“We’re trying to show kids that math, science, technology — all those things — are actually applicable in the real world, and they can see math and science in the real world around them every day,” McCaffrey said.

The Growin’GEERS program includes a series of quests revolving around the story of a young girl named Flynn.

“What I’ve seen in the past two years of me working on this project is that the girls are really interested in the story,” McCaffrey said. “The boys are more interested in how they can get their hands dirty.”

McCaffrey says it’s important to incorporate both the storyline and the hands-on activities, because engineers must know how to use both in the real world.

“What I love most about Growin’GEERS is it’s a discovery method of learning,” Gianoulis said. “Alex has really tapped into what is natural in children, which is creativity and problem solving. So you don’t just give them a bunch of information and stuff it in their head[s].”

McCaffrey says the award and working with the Schultz Center has allowed for the expansion of Growin’GEERS through networking.

“They’ve been enabling us to connect with teachers, more educators, more administrators to really understand what we need to build moving forward and how we can better serve the teacher community,” McCaffrey said.

Gianoulis says the feedback she’s received from teachers about the program has been positive.

“You can take this hands on activity that uses all household items — and you can incorporate writing, reading with your math and science,” Gianoulis said.

McCaffrey says her main goal is to build a program that can support teachers and help them bring these engineering concepts into the classroom.

Listen to the full conversation with Alex McCaffrey and Deborah Gianoulis on Wednesday’s episode of the “First Coast Connect” podcast on iTunes.