The Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition in partnership with the Monsanto Fund selected Dan Barton as one of 10 Missouri STEM Educator Innovators. The statewide K-12 award recognizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers for their innovation in the classroom.
As chair of the Industrial Technology and Engineering Department, Barton has been largely responsible for expanding the department’s curriculum to prepare students to adapt to a world increasingly filled with technological development. Required courses for seventh and eighth graders focus on basic technical design and engineering skills. Barton’s eighth graders, for example, learn mechanics, electronics and basic programming as they design, build and program a high-tech gum ball machine. They learn about aerodynamics as they design a boomerang on the computer, produce it on a CNC (computer numerical control) router and then keep engineering notes of flight patterns as they tune it. Advanced classes allow students in grades 9 through 12 to delve deeply into computer-aided drafting, robotics, digital audio technology, and computer video editing and special effects.*
“I still believe in using hand tools and power tools, and our students still do woodworking projects,” says Barton. So, as one student crafts an inlaid poker table in one corner of the Burroughs work space, another student engineers a computer-controlled weather balloon that takes photos and can be tracked with a global-positioning system. “One thing I’ve learned as a teacher is that you don’t get in your students’ way,” says Barton. “You show them the basics, give them some limitations and let them run with it.”
Barton was recognized as a STEM Educator Innovator largely for his role in sponsoring the Super Mileage Vehicle Challenge (SMVC) Club, which has students designing and building an experimental car that competes in Missouri’s SMVC competition each spring. In 2008, the Burroughs car registered 98 mpg. Subsequent generations have achieved up to 150 mpg and have brought home awards including Engineering Awards every year, the Pit Award, the Sportsmanship Award and the Alternative Fuel Category Award.
To make the car more environmentally friendly, the Burroughs vehicle runs on biodiesel fuel, which is produced from vegetable oil waste from the school kitchen. In 2008, Burroughs entered the only car powered on biodiesel fuel. Since then, in a collaborative effort with the Science Department, Burroughs has ramped up production, supplying fuel to other teams competing at the state event and to the Plant Operations Department to run the school’s lawn tractor.
“I’ve always been a problem solver, and I encourage my students to do the same … to find ways to apply their knowledge of math and science to more efficiently complete a task,” says Barton, who in 2013 was the St. Louis Industrial Technology Educator of the Year. Since 1999, the Burroughs program has twice been named the Middle School and High School Program of the Year by the St. Louis Suburban Industrial Technology Association and received a Program Excellence Award twice from both the Technology Education Association of Missouri and the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association.
*Additional courses, such as Advanced Physics: Engineering Explorations and AP Computer Science, are offered under the auspices of other departments.