Sweetman’s predecessor launched the program as a consortium of five districts in 1990 with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Local System Change Grant. Sweetman has grown the project in the last six years to include 13 Rhode Island school districts and secured $5 million in grant funding during that time. This year she and her team received an additional $500,000 in funding to expand the GEMS-Net curriculum to include the ever-growing field of science: computer science. An exploratory Science, Technology, Engineering and Math plus Computing (STEMS+C) Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help the educators build the foundation for a thoughtful computer science curriculum for schools in Rhode Island. The first step in implementing such a program, according to Sweetman, is to assess where pre-computer science skills already exist across current curriculums. She and her team will look to identify where computational skills like tinkering, perseverance, and decoding currently exist across math, science, and English language arts. These findings will help GEMS- Net recommend best practices for implementing computer learning to the schools. Sweetman’s interest in advancing science education is not limited to the classroom. Since 2007, she has been working to create media that invites young children of all abilities and cultures to become invested in learning science and engineering through hands-on experience. Her work influences how science education is incorporated into children’s digital games and television shows including Sesame Street and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That . “With science and engineering, you often think of it in terms of college- level content, but you would be amazed by the depth of scientific thinking and early conceptual skills and knowledge that young children demonstrate” Sweetman says. For the past three years, she served as an advisor on a $100 million Ready to Learn grant awarded to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS Kids by the U.S. Department of Education. This year Sweetman received a one-year, $300,000 grant to study how children’s exposure to media at "The outreach that is celebrated by the University has made it possible for the GEMS-Net project to sustain and grow. It is a model partnership that effectively bridges research and practice. GEMS-Net will continue to improve opportunities for young children in Rhode Island to engage in science and engineering experiences." - Sara Sweetman

| 36 | The University of Rhode Island { Momentum: Research & Innovation }

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