Teachers race back to class to pique middle schoolers' STEM interest
Photos by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/magazine editor
As part of a PAsmart “Advancing K-12 Computer Science & STEM Education” grant received by Pennsylvania College of Technology from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 24 middle school educators recently convened on campus for a weeklong hands-on externship.
The externship was available to schools in 10 rural counties in northcentral Pennsylvania.
While on campus, the teachers assembled and learned to operate 3D printers that they will take back to their schools and explored STEM-related Penn College majors. When they return to their schools, they will each devise a lesson plan that they can share with one another to expose their middle school students to the demands and opportunities of today’s technologically sophisticated workforce.
Led by Kathy D. Chesmel, assistant dean of materials science engineering technology, and various Penn College faculty, the educators explored the fields of civil engineering, construction management, engineering design, gaming & simulation programming, manufacturing, nondestructive testing, and plastics & polymers.
The teachers also collaborated to develop ideas for field trips, “lending kits” of equipment and supplies the college will share for use in their classrooms, and a STEM festival for their students.
Cindy Black, who works with gifted students in the Canton Area School District, will return to school with new offerings to spark her students’ interest.
“My goal was to have more innovative ideas to create projects for the students. I work with high-IQ students, and I need to find challenging activities,” she said.
The lending kits provided for through the grant will help her school to provide those activities in a more budget-friendly manner.
“I’ve learned a lot of different ways to embed STEM extensions and enrichment, even in a language arts classroom,” said Sarah Kauffman, a teacher of English and language arts at Meadowbrook Christian Academy in Milton. “The soft skills of strong communication are a key component of STEM. It’s really important that I am giving students opportunities to practice those skills in a way that makes sense.”
She added that a new awareness of various STEM careers will help her to guide students in matching their gifts with potential careers.
Luke Herron, of the Keystone Central School District, is similarly interested in helping students find their career fit: “My intent is to get kids thinking about STEM careers and exploring the different options,” he said.