STEM BEST: Fort Madison High School

Fort Madison high school students
In the words of Greg Smith, Fort Madison High School principal, their STEM BEST model is "making students more responsible for their own learning," allowing them to create their own projects and partner with local industry mentors to solve them. Students

"Our community partners were reinforcing the idea that students needed to learn in a way consistent with the current world of work," said Greg Smith, principal at Fort Madison High School. "They agreed with us that to be successful as adults, students needed to practice problem-solving in group settings. They needed to become better critical thinkers, learn to be flexible and creative and rely more on innovation and research instead of textbooks and lectures. We knew we had to act."

For the last few years, Fort Madison High School has journeyed to overhaul the physical and methodical ways of its school to bridge the world of work with the classroom. With the help of numerous local partners, along with an Iowa STEM BEST® award in 2016, the high school is making way for a new wave of STEM education with students at the helm.

A student library board took on the school's redesign project by starting with shared spaces. After doing scholarly research and visiting other schools, the team recommended what to update and eliminate, even suggesting where to tear down walls and add collaborative spacing. They created a reading lounge, group study booths, a makerspace, a new media center and a green room for filming and editing-all with guidance from local business partners.

From Axalta and Climax Molybdenum to Alliant Energy and Huffman Welding & Machine, more than a dozen community organizations have stepped up to mentor students along with co-building curriculum with educators.

"Many of our partners have worked directly with students in a class we created called, '12 Plus,'" Smith said. "They have also met with our curriculum teams to review course requirements and discussed with us how we might better format our instruction in some areas. Industry experts have also made themselves available to our students to assist in their research during this process. Next year, for the first time, every teacher will be required to create, teach and evaluate a project-based unit that will be evaluated by a rubric/presentation method."

For an inside look at Fort Madison High School's STEM BEST model, watch this video.

And, the STEM Council offers up to 16 new STEM BEST grants for 2017-18 for communities interested in developing their own school+business partnerships. Deadline is September 15. Find out more information at

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