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Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College pair up on study of how e-books can spark kids’ interest in engineering

Storytelling and engineering might seem like an unusual combination. But not to researchers at Smith College, who have launched a $3 million grant-funded study exploring how online novels can be used to spark middle school interest in engineering.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Smith professors to work with colleagues at Springfield Technical Community College to document how such learning happens.

Their study will explore how middle school students respond to the “Talk to Me” program, an interactive website where students learn the type of creative, problem-solving skills used in engineering by reading e-books.

Smith professors will work on creating the online books while the community college professors will do outreach to middle schoolers using the program, according to project leaders. Currently, none of the students in the study are located in Hampshire County. An early version of the “Talk to Me” program was field-tested with Springfield public school teachers.

Smith education professor Alan Rudnitsky, one of three professors heading the study, said the need for such programs has increased with the state’s recent adoption of new curriculum frameworks for science technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We want to try and up the number of students engaged in STEM education by studying the pedagogical tools that make learning fun and meaningful,” he said. “We’re delighted to have the grant so we can use these tools with middle schoolers.”

Glenn Ellis, a professor in Smith’s Picker School of Engineering, and Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, a professor of physics and civil engineering technology at STCC, are the other project leaders.

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