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High-Tech Teachers

January 7, 2021
person looking at a computer screen
Shannon Ragan teaches student avatars how to safely use an acetylene torch during a Mursion simulation in the agricultural education lab. (Photo by Jason Harper)

The College of Education embraces technology for the benefit of students and educators.

 

By Micaela Myers

 

Emerging technologies reach every college on campus, including the College of Education, which uses technology to prepare future educators, encourage children to pursue careers in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—teach computer science, conduct professional development and more.

 

Virtual Classrooms

Future teachers need as much time in front of students as possible, and the College of Education’s Trustees Education Initiative enables 21st-century technology to help get the job done with Mursion virtual reality classroom simulations.

“It’s a middle school classroom with five students who sit around a table,” explains School of Teacher Education Assistant Lecturer Lindsey Freeman, who teaches agriculture education. “We can practice whatever we want in terms of teaching content. It’s very interactive. It’s as real as it gets without being in an actual classroom. The students all have their own personalities. They have their own things they’re interested in or don’t like. It’s fun to see my students interact with middle schoolers who have real personalities.”

Freeman has used Mursion in a variety of ways. For example, she had her students teach a lesson on how to safely use power tools. “It was a chance for them to get in front of students and teach them how to use tools before they have the pressure of getting into a real shop and teaching real students,” she says.

Freeman also has used the software to simulate parent-teacher conferences. In both instances, the students were shocked by how realistic the experience was.

 

Encouraging STEM

To encourage interest in STEM and STEM careers, especially among underrepresented groups, School of Teacher Education Professor Jacqueline Leonard serves as principal researcher on the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant. Called “The Bessie Coleman Project: Using Computer Modeling and Flight Simulation to Create STEM Pathways,” the project provides unique learning opportunities for underrepresented students in the Rocky Mountain and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. by focusing on learning experiences involving emerging technologies, culturally responsive instructional and curricular practices, and using STEM role models to motivate students.

“Initially, we started out working with kids on 3D modeling and drone technology,” Leonard says. “The drone part really resonated with the kids. They actually got to learn how to operate drones.”

 

person working with a child on the floor
ITEST Pennsylvania students make a launch pad and payload for a drone flight test. (Photo by Jacqueline Leonard)

Students in Wyoming, Denver and Philadelphia have all been part of the project. In Colorado, speakers included Ron Oliversen from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, astronaut and sculptor Ed Dwight and Capt. Willie Daniels from United Airlines.

“That same summer, we also went to the Wind River Reservation, and we had a geologist working with kids out in an area on the reservation where they were able to fly drones and get pictures of a buffalo jump in Beaver Rim, so it was connected to their culture.”

Wyoming outreach has also included summer camps and after-school programs in Laramie, Cheyenne, Evanston and Riverton.

This past year, students in Aurora, Colo., and Philadelphia used drones to think about rescue, such as using a drone to carry rescue baskets to hurricane victims.

When COVID-19 precluded in-person lessons, the project team began working on online modules. Leonard hopes to return to in-person instruction this summer, with plans to include Memphis and Indianapolis. So far, the program has reached more than 300 students nationwide.

The experiences can improve students’ computational thinking skills, which are related to being able to solve problems systematically. “Kids have been doing computational thinking through coding as well as problem solving in terms of how they might put things together to get the drone to lift off with a payload and that type of thing,” Leonard says. “Based on the data so far, we can tell that the kids have been pretty excited about engineering. Some kids have said they want to do computer science or aviation or they’ve never thought of being a drone pilot, but now they are.”

 

Teaching Computer Science

In 2018, the Wyoming Department of Education announced the launch of Boot Up Wyoming 2022, an initiative to implement computer science in all Wyoming schools. UW’s College of Education and Department of Computer Science stepped up to help the state reach this goal.

Initiated by College of Education Associate Professor Linda Hutchison and Computer Science Lecturer Allyson Anderson, a computer science minor and endorsement program were developed to help alleviate the inevitable shortage of qualified computer science teachers. Current UW students can take the minor program as undergraduates, and teachers already practicing in the state are able to join the endorsement program. The program was developed in collaboration with Wyoming’s community colleges, which offer the 1000- and 2000-level computer science courses face to face to students in their areas or at a distance via online tools. Those taking advantage of this offering complete the upper-level coursework at UW, either on campus or at a distance. The computer science courses are offered by the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and the College of Education delivers the teaching methods course.

 

man on a laptop computer
A student at the 2019 Casper GenCyber Camp uses a Micro:Bit to learn coding. (Photo by Andrea Burrows)

Associate Dean and Professor Andrea Burrows is also spearheading efforts that would permit Wyoming educators to earn micro-credentials—a form of certification that shows a person has mastered a specific set of skills by attending professional learning experiences.

“UW’s College of Education is dedicated to offering as many options as possible to support our K–12 teachers in their critical work,” Burrows says. “The computer science micro-credential program would allow educators to learn on their own time and utilize their classrooms to showcase their work.”

Burrows partners with Mike Borowczak on a number of projects, including WySLICE, UWyo Code.org and GenCyber Wyoming. Borowczak is the Loy and Edith Harris Assistant Professor of computer science, as well as director of the Cybersecurity Education And Research (CEDAR) Center and Lab and co-director of the Wyoming Advanced Blockchain Lab, both a part of the Secure Systems Collaborative.

“We’ve offered professional development and summer camps for K–12 teachers and students,” Borowczak says. “We try to address what a teacher or district needs in a way that’s valuing of their existing resources, knowledge and what they want to do for their students.”

WySLICE, which stands for Wyoming’s Schools and Libraries Integration Computer Science in Education, prepares 150 K–8 teachers and state librarians from all disciplines to integrate computer science into their teaching. The project, primarily funded by a National Science Foundation CS for All grant with co-funding from its Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), aims to reach nearly half of all K–8 students in Wyoming. WySLICE is led by Borowczak and Burrows, with co-investigators Adam Myers in astronomy and physics and Lars Kotthoff in computer science.

“We’ve also partnered with Code.org, which is Microsoft-based philanthropy,” Borowczak says.

Code.org offers prepackaged curriculum that can be a good fit for some teachers and districts.

The third project, GenCyber, is National Security Agency funded and focuses more on the cybersecurity aspect of computer science.

“We combine cybersecurity, computer science and a teacher’s core domain area,” Borowczak says. “We alternate years between summer camps for students and professional development for teachers.”

Burrows and Borowczak also run the Computer Science Hub (uwyo.edu/wycs), which showcases computer science opportunities for Wyoming K–12 teachers and students.

 

Pandemic Prompts Podcast

When COVID-19 struck, the College of Education stepped up to provide a plethora of resources to the state’s educators, including a new Cowboy ED podcast series housed in the Wyoming School–University Partnership hosted by Johnson Junior High School computer science teacher James Kapptie, UW Assistant Professor of Learning, Design and Technology Mia Kim Williams and Assistant Professional Lecturer of Educational Psychology Joe Schroer. The inaugural season explored creating connected and engaging classrooms with a focus on virtual classrooms, open education resources, social-emotional learning, equity and access.

The second season launched this past fall and was dedicated to pre-service and practicing K–12 educators discussing classroom best practices, current trends to support teachers’ professional development and developing insights on the frontier of 21st century teaching and learning.

Williams says, “We will continue to talk with innovative educators throughout the state and are adding some episodes that explore technology best practices and trends in educational research—three different types of episodes.”

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