DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A new hands-on education project had dozens of North Texas business executives busy this morning, volunteering at an elementary school in the Dallas Independent School District.

The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Texas Instruments hosted the CEO Volunteer Event.

The ‘STEM in the Schoolyard’ project was meant to encourage volunteerism on all levels and focus on critical education issues.

Chairman, president and chief executive officer of Texas Instruments, Rich Templeton, explained what STEM stands for.

Break up the four letters and it’s science, technology, engineering and math. The idea behind it is pretty simple,” he said. “In a technologically more sophisticated world, on a daily basis, having young people and the leaders of the future with a solid grounding in STEM background is really critical to the competitiveness of society and the country.”

According to the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas, in 2007, some 4,000 state math and science teachers left the classroom and 40-percent of science teachers in the lowest-performing schools were assigned out-of-field.

During the STEM in the Schoolyard event more than 40 top CEOs and other volunteers worked side-by-side with fifth-graders at Gabe P. Allen Charter School.

The idea was, “To put the focus on science and math experiments,” Templeton explained.

With hands-on help from area businesspeople, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, students rotated through STEM learning stations.

“We’ve got a bunch of neat things that will be going on today, relative to building catapults or building calculators, different solar ovens. They have teams that have designed some pretty neat things.”

The United Way has put in place a plan that they hope “make meaningful and measurable improvements in the lives of people in our community over the next 10 years.” Part of that plan includes a goal of increasing the number of students ready for success after high school by 50-percent.

With American high school students ranked almost last in mathematics and physics the need for public school instruction is being magnified.

Speaking about the academic performance of students in the United States and the adults teaching them Templeton said, “I think somewhere along the lines you know when we think about the basics, and that is the basics of really math and science, it really comes down to — do you have the right teachers in the right places that are comfortable with those two subjects.”

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas CEO Jennifer Sampson said simply, “When you have fundamental knowledge in math and science, you’re able to solve problems and think critically—two things we definitely want for our community’s youngest minds.”

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