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Remote Learning Fuels New STEM Experience for Eighth Graders in Detroit Public Schools 

Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2021

Remote learning has caused countless challenges for students. For 3,521 eighth graders across 57 middle schools in Detroit Public Schools Community District, it also created a unique opportunity to learn about computer science at the very same time they’re studying online during the pandemic. 

Prior to COVID-19, eighth grade students in Detroit Public Schools typically wouldn’t get exposed to computer science in the classroom, unless their school offered a computer science elective. Many wouldn’t have access to a laptop, tablet, or reliable internet connection at home. Thanks to the Connected Futures Project launched by the district in June 2020, now all students have their very own computer at their fingertips. 

With the district’s increasing focus on computer science at the high school level, the new virtual learning environment and Connected Futures initiative created the perfect opportunity to expose eighth graders to computer science for the first time through our A World In Motion (AWIM) STEM program. “These students will be going to high school next year. They need to start exploring their interests and find out what clicks in a fun and engaging way. AWIM gets students excited about STEM” said Kristie Ford, Executive Director, K-12 Science at Detroit Public Schools Community District. 

However, reaching every eighth grader is no small task. The Detroit community immediately rallied together, with Ford Motor Company and General Motors collaborating with The SAE Foundation and Detroit Public Schools to help fund the implementation of the AWIM Cybersecurity: Keeping Our Networks Secure STEM Challenge. Michigan-based ECA Science Kit Services also stepped up, helping to accept, sort, and ship all of the AWIM kits to each school at a nominal cost. 

By providing every eighth-grade student with individual STEM materials and every teacher with curriculum training and program support, students will be able to work through this hands-on STEM experience from home just as they would if they were working in teams at school.

AWIM volunteer Eric Nagel of GM works with students at Ralph W. Emerson Elementary-Middle School in Detroit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Through the AWIM Cybersecurity Challenge, students will have the chance to visualize how information travels through the internet, learn about data encryption, and understand how to keep their personal information protected when they’re online—invaluable lessons they’ll also be able to share with their parents, guardians, and siblings.

Beyond their exposure to computer science concepts, students will also be introduced to different STEM-related career paths. Industry volunteers from Ford and GM will assist teachers in virtual classrooms, bringing real-world perspectives to each online lesson while also sharing insights into their roles at each company. 

Kristie Ford added: “Learning about cybersecurity while also studying remotely gives students a chance to experience virtual learning in a different and more engaging way with opportunities to continue exploring while they’re already online. We have to provide opportunities for students to engage in different subjects to see what they’d like to do. Maybe they experience computer science and enroll in an IT or CS Career and Technical Education program or engage in CS courses at their high school because that’s where their path takes them.”