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Lander Teacher Learns from UW-Led Technology Program

August 16, 2016
man standing, wearing virtual reality headset and holding controllers
Lander Middle School instructor Dean Cyphers tests virtual reality equipment in a University of Wyoming engineering lab. Cyphers took part in a UW-led program that is designed to help students become interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. (UW Photo)

Dean Cyphers says it is never too early for students, even as young as elementary age, to learn computer science and programming/coding.

The Lander Middle School instructor took part in a University of Wyoming program that will help students become interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Cyphers, a technology exploration instructor, was among 30 teachers -- mainly from various Wyoming school districts -- on the UW campus this summer for a 10-day schedule that included various STEM-related workshops.

In its first year, RAMPED (robotics, applied mathematics, physics and engineering design) is planned as a three-year, federally funded Wyoming Department of Education Math and Science Partnership grant program, says Andrea Burrows, UW College of Education secondary education science assistant professor, who led the program.

The program was originally developed when Natrona County School District (NCSD) leaders and teachers created a strategic plan to boost graduation rates. They worked with UW instructors in developing the RAMPED program.

Burrows says the focus of the program is to support teachers on student achievement in STEM fields. RAMPED is a professional development program in which at least 25 teachers each year experience a 10-day, on-campus summer institute and six days of intensive follow-up training in Casper.

“RAMPED provides teachers professional development to enable six active-learning projects revolving around robotics, applied mathematics, physics and engineering design,” Burrows says.

Teacher participants worked directly with physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, computer scientists and computer engineers in advanced laboratories, using cutting-edge computer facilities on the UW campus.

Cyphers says the program introduced him to numerous STEM areas with which he was unfamiliar.

“In so doing, I now have more ideas to ‘hook’ my students. I also have several ideas on expanding and enriching the lessons I already teach, specifically in robotics, electricity, astronomy and electronics,” he says. “The program opened my eyes to many new ways of combining my STEM lessons to make them more robust and useful in real-world applications.”

Cyphers also is Lander Middle School’s technology/robotics club adviser.

At UW, first-week workshops include the use of raspberry pi, or a computer on a card that is similar to an Intel processor; arduino, a computer that has inputs and outputs; and working with Baxter, a robot. The second-week workshops of RAMPED focus on space (and using data from the Sloan Digital Space Survey), virtual reality and a NetLogo, and a workshop titled “Naturally Inspired.”

The six follow-up sessions, to be held in Casper later in the academic year, feature the same content with ideas for teachers to use as classroom extensions and elaborations, Burrows says.

Even though the program targeted the NCSD needs, Burrows says RAMPED’s ideals also can be used in other school districts.

“RAMPED provides the same mathematics, physics and engineering content, and instruction so that any teacher can ask and answer questions -- using research and inquiry -- and then incorporate this same technique and content into their classroom structure,” she adds.

Cyphers says all teachers should be encouraged to participate in the RAMPED program to effectively teach students the importance of STEM careers.

“The UW RAMPED program was a workshop all educators and administrators should attend. It reinforced my belief that computer science and programming/coding are subjects that should be taught at all levels of education, beginning in elementary school,” he says. “In addition, I now have access to resources and other professionals I would not have had if I did not attend this program.”

Burrows led the RAMPED program along with UW’s Bob Kubichek, electrical and computer engineering associate professor, and session leader for arduinos; Adam Myers, physics and astronomy associate professor, and session leader for space; Suresh Muknahallipatna, electrical and computer engineering professor, and raspberry pi session leader; and Mance Hurley, NCSD Academy coach in the Pathways Innovation Center.

Other RAMPED personnel were Mike Borowczak, session leader for a “Naturally Inspired” workshop, Erebus Labs; Amy Banic, UW assistant professor of computer science, and session leader for a virtual reality workshop; UW graduate student Debbie Kretzschmar, session leader for the Baxter the robot workshop; and Tonia Dousay, UW assistant professor of professional studies.

The teachers’ work, including created lesson plans and posters, as well as session materials, is available at www.uwpd.org/RAMPED.

For more information about RAMPED, contact Burrows at (307) 766-6735 or aburrow1@uwyo.edu.


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Chad Baldwin

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