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Science Forensics helps local teachers inspire students in STEM subjects

6/25/2008 —
Eleven teachers from five local school districts and two new education graduates recently learned new techniques to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at their schools. In early June at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, these 11 teachers joined five Penn State Fayette faculty and youth summer camp instructors to participate in a special three-day program presented by the Center for the Advancement of STEM Education (CASE). CASE is a U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Education program. The workshop, part of Penn State Fayette’s “Science Forensics: An Academic Pathway in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” initiative,  highlighted best practices that promote STEM inquiry and design-based teaching and learning using the Materials World Modules Program developed by a National Science Foundation grant at Northwestern University in Illinois. The Sports Materials module gave the educators many opportunities to explore STEM topics as a collaborative endeavor, working with other participants to solve the same scientific inquiry projects that students would tackle.

Janie Zimmer, the workshop’s mathematics instructor and president of Research-based Education L.L.C., explains, “It’s important to have the teachers go through the activities as students, so they experience the activity and the excitement of it. As part of the learning process, they can make it more interesting for [their] students.”

The workshop activities also encouraged teachers to learn new strategies for teaching, such as how to create a student-centered classroom and how to get students to take ownership of their learning. Zimmer says teachers need to ask good questions to get students thinking about concepts, then, when an answer comes from a student the class has ownership of it.

Stu Schultz, CASE lead teacher and the workshop’s science instructor, explains that an important lesson teachers can impart to their students is that it is OK to fail. “Students can learn from things that don’t work—they can move on to something else. It’s all about learning; taking what doesn’t work and redesigning it.” There are typically many cycles of redesign before success, he adds. “That’s the way engineers work.”

Using the Sports Materials module, workshop participants explored a number of topics, including sports ball design and materials. One of the activities looked at the different rebound (bounce) of sports balls. In another activity, the participants were challenged to develop a prototype of a sports ball to meet certain defined performance objectives.

“It was a networking situation for teachers to share common interests and to learn inquiry-based methods that should better engage students,” reports Nicole Perret, professor of mathematics and the coordinator of Penn State Fayette’s Science Forensics program. “The goal is to get kids excited about science, math, engineering and technology, and show them that it has a place in the real world.”

Participating teachers and educators included: Sharon Weible from the Connellsville School District; Cathy Brown, Maddie Johnson and Janae Rosendale from Laurel Highlands School District; Renee Petrovich and Christine Rozak from St. John The Evangelist School; Kristie Bryner from Frazier School District; Art Hruby and Jody Wells from Uniontown School District; recent education graduates Paul Coltus and Beth Wehner; and Nancy Dorset, Dave Meredith, Nicole Perret, Joelle Shostell and John Timko with Penn State Fayette.

Science Teachers
Janie Zimmer (standing), CASE workshop mathematics instructor, with (from left, front) Christine Rozak and Renee Petrovich of St. John The Evangelist School, Sharon Weible of Connellsville School District, and (rear) Kristie Bryner of Frazier School District, Paul Coltus of Penn State Fayette’s youth summer camp program, and Art Hruby of Uniontown School District.

Science Teachers
(from left:) Joelle Shostell of Penn State Fayette’s youth summer camp program, Jody Wells of Uniontown School District, and Maddie Johnson of Laurel Highlands School District work on creating a sports ball prototype.

Science Teachers
(from left:) Stu Schultz, CASE lead teacher and workshop science instructor, observes as Beth Wehner, a recent education graduate, and Cathy Brown and Janae Rosendale of Laurel Highlands School District test their sports ball prototype.

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