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Sheridan Teacher Learns from UW-Led Technology Program

August 16, 2016
woman sitting and working at a computer
Sheridan Junior High School teacher Rachael Esh works on a program during the recent RAMPED (robotics, applied mathematics, physics and engineering design) program at the University of Wyoming. (UW Photo)

Sheridan Junior High School seventh/eighth-grade science teacher Rachael Esh is like many of her students, with limited exposure to many STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Esh was among 30 teachers -- mainly from various Wyoming school districts -- who were on the University of Wyoming 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 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.

Esh says she has not had professional development opportunities related to STEM, but has had other opportunities for professional teacher growth, such as place-based education.

“I liked being exposed to all new STEM programming and meeting great professors and teachers,” she says. “RAMPED provided new programming and ideas I can incorporate into my curriculum, such as running simulations to represent real-world phenomenon.”

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 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.

Esh says the program was beneficial and will help her communicate to her students the importance of STEM-related careers.

“I am grateful to be exposed to programs I otherwise would not have, and can encourage students who are interested to pursue STEM projects,” she says. “Although it was a lot of information in a short time, I have higher awareness of STEM programming and the resources to get help. I would recommend it to my colleagues.”

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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