AnnMarie Thomas

AnnMarie Thomas

Pre-school, grade school and high school STEM teachers, along with educators from other disciplines, will be able to take full-credit engineering-education courses for free this spring and summer thanks to a $100,000 sponsorship from Google Inc. to the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for educators teaching throughout the PK-12 spectrum, as well as graduate students studying to become teachers,” said AnnMarie Thomas , Ph.D., an associate professor who co-founded St. Thomas’ Center for Engineering Education. “The sponsorship from Google opens so many doors for us. We are now able to rapidly expand access to our engineering education program to many more current and future teachers.”

St. Thomas’ engineering-education courses, taught by faculty from the university’s schools of engineering and education, are designed to give STEM teachers confidence in bringing engineering experiences and content to their students, Thomas said.

Deborah Besser, Ph.D., director of the Center for Engineering Education, said the support from Google is especially appreciated because many STEM teachers in elementary, middle and high school have never had the opportunity to take a course in how to teach engineering or have not been able to afford the $1,200-per-course tuition.

One of the three-credit courses, “Engineering Design,” will be offered four weekends on Friday evenings and Saturdays during the spring semester. The three-credit courses offered during the day in June are “Engineering in the P-12 Classroom,” “Digital Electronics and Computing Systems” and “Material Science and Engineering.”

St. Thomas’ undergraduate engineering education minor, and its graduate-level Engineering Education Certificate Program, began in 2010 with support from the National Science Foundation.

Thomas joined the St. Thomas faculty in 2006 and also directs the School of Engineering’s Playful Learning Lab, a research group that focuses on the intersections of play and learning. This group developed the popular “squishy circuits” tool for teaching electronics, and has collaborated with a wide array of schools, nonprofits and artists.

Many of the tools and methods developed in the Playful Learning Lab are integrated into St. Thomas’ engineering-education programs, giving educators access to new research and methods.

A video of the Playful Learning Lab’s work with the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul can be seen here. Thomas’ squishy circuits Ted Talk, which demonstrates how homemade play dough can be used to help youngsters understand electrical properties, can be seen in 34 languages here.

The Google Making and Science team invited Thomas to its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters last spring to give a talk on her book, Making Makers: Kids, Tools and the Future of Innovation.

For more information about the courses visit the Center for Engineering Education website or Besser at

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