Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pervade every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Despite the United States long being a leader in STEM-related fields, fewer students are showing an interest in these topics. But a new program is changing that, finding innovative ways to generate interest and promote more positive beliefs and attitudes towards STEM.
The ArkanSONO Program
ArkanSONO is a program that brings ultrasound to schools in the Little Rock School District (LRSD), and has both short-term and long-term objectives. The program’s short-term goal is to stimulate student interest in STEM and health-related careers and to increase student and teacher STEM content knowledge and familiarity with imaging technology. The long-term goal is to prepare a generation that’s ready to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral and clinical research needs.
“Students in Arkansas, like students across the nation, are in dire need of any educational intervention that has the potential to ‘spark’ their interest in [STEM] careers,” Kevin D. Phelan, Ph.D., a professor in the Division of Clinical Anatomy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) tells Parentology. He and his team partnered with the LRSD in Central Arkansas to develop ArkanSONO, a program made possible thanks to funding from a National Institute of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant. “We believe ArkanSONO is strategically positioned to be just that spark and to serve as a model for other school districts throughout the nation.”
The Transformative Powers of Ultrasound
Most students know what an ultrasound is, but not many understand how it works. Though often called an imaging technology, ultrasound actually emits a high-pitch frequency that can’t be heard with the human ear. This frequency reflects as echoes to help users to discern internal structures and “see” the movements of these parts in real time. This concept is otherwise known as echolocation.
Today, the natural principle of echolocation is the basis for many modern technologies. Submarines use sonar to find targets and avoid collisions. Planes use radar to guide themselves through the air. Self-driving cars use Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), a remote sensing method that uses light in a form of pulsed laser, to “see” roads and radiologists use ultrasound to help in the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions and disease. What makes ultrasound a key tool in STEM programs is that technological breakthroughs have led to the advent of hand-held ultrasound devices that can be easily taken into the classroom. In the case of LRSD, this means Vscan Extend pocket-sized ultrasounds made by GE Healthcare.
“Point-of-care ultrasound devices are bringing the power of medical imaging to the hands of students, allowing them to peer inside the world of the living human body in ‘real time,’” Phelan emphasizes. “It’s truly remarkable to see the instant connection, to what is sometimes an abstract world of science, when a student holds an ultrasound probe and visualizes the response of [a part of the human body]. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a second grader or a medical student, the response is basically the same.”
STEM Programs as the Future of Education
Schools have been teaching science, technology and mathematics for decades, so what sets STEM programs apart from the rest? As Phelan explains, the traditional way of lecturing is not effective, as it is a passive way of learning. Active learning strategies such as those provided by the ArkanSONO program offer hands-on learning and promote both the integration of concepts and long-term retention of information.
“The response has been extremely positive,” Phelan shares. “You can just see it in [students’] eyes how excited they are when they hold the ultrasound probe for the first time against [a] neck and see the carotid artery pulsing.”
STEM Program ArkanSONO — Sources
Kevin D. Phlelan, Ph.D.
GE Healthcare: Move over Batman, Bat-students are coming: Using ultrasound to “see with sound”