Teachers Learn Innovative Engineering Activities

July 23, 2008
Two teachers examining model car
Gillette teachers Amber Larsen, left, and Heather Burrow examine a hydrogen-powered model car in a University of Wyoming laboratory. Both participated in the UW Science and Mathematics Teaching Center workshop that introduced teachers to innovative engineering classroom activities. (UW Photo)

Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers explored innovative engineering classroom activities during a recent summer workshop offered by the University of Wyoming Science and Mathematics Teaching Center (SMTC).

"An Engineering Based Approach to Science and Math Instruction" was a collaboration between the SMTC and the UW Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The two-week workshop introduced teachers from school districts in Wyoming and Idaho to campus to try out innovative lesson plans and in-class activities that can be adapted to different grade levels.

It is funded by a Title II grant from the Wyoming Department of Education. Participating teachers will receive on-site and telephone support from engineering faculty and graduate students during the 2008-09 academic year, to ensure successful implementation in the classroom.

Many learner-friendly lesson plans and other resources exist, but teachers often have trouble locating them.

"They are at the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Energy, professional societies, even some large corporations," Sadrul Ula, professor of electrical and computer engineering and workshop coordinator, says. "They have a lot of science and mathematics lesson plans, it's just that teachers don't have the time to go and find those."

Engineering graduate and undergraduate students tested lesson plans and activities on a variety of topics ranging from solar and hydrogen energy to electromagnetics and bioengineering. The team then led participants through hands-on trials of several selected experiments while they were on campus.

The teachers will provide input on which units offer the greatest potential for use in the classroom and help determine which activities will be developed for further development for broader use across Wyoming.

Interweaving the hands-on assignments were a series of lectures featuring faculty experts from the Colleges of Engineering and Education, as well as field trips to a wind farm near Arlington, Wyo.; the Missouri Basin Power Project near Wheatland, Wyo.; and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. Tours highlighted the types of resources available in or near teachers' home communities.

Participating in the Laramie-based workshop is the first step for the teachers. Grant funding also provides follow-up support for applying what they learned in an instructional setting.

Teachers reflected on a range of reasons for participating in the program. Connie Klements, a teacher at Laramie Junior High School, sees the potential for engaging her special education students in richer ways.

"It's a lot of hands-on work," Klements says. "Special ed kids need hands-on activities so that they can understand better what is going on."

Lisa Vail of Blackfoot, Idaho, who coordinates a district-wide program for gifted students in grades 3-6, saw the workshop as an opportunity to expand her knowledge to help students.

"I was very interested in coming, to get a wider base for engineering possibilities," Vail explained, "to guide them toward whatever they would like to do, and get them to the right sources."

Jim Moore, who teaches science at Starrett Junior High School in Riverton, saw the experience as a resource for helping students create broader visions of their future.

"These are enrichment activities that will, hopefully, get them interested in something that will at least get them thinking about college -- what they want to do, where they wan to go," Moore says. "If they are interested in engineering or science, we'd be glad for them to do that."

Participating teachers were:

Blackfoot, Idaho -- Eric Vale and Lisa Vale.
Cheyenne -- Deborah Chaplin.
Encampment -- Nathan Davis and David Goff.
Gillette -- Heather Burrow, Lora Greer, Amber Larsen, Ryan Larsen, Patricia Kuberra, Michael Mahoney and Greg Schliske.
Lander -- Jim Moore.
Laramie -- Connie Klements, Becky Steele and Ron Whitman.
Riverton -- Bruce Peil, Kerri Peil and Jan Shimogaki.
Rock Springs -- Doris Lehman.
Wamsutter -- Charles Cook, Cheryl Rideout and Sonya Wheeler.
Wright -- Kristina Butler.

Graduate and undergraduate assistants who staffed the workshop were:

Beijing, China -- Yi Zhang.
Eldoret, Kenya -- Mark Korir.
Laramie -- Russell Martin, Jeff Rickerl and Robert Wilhelm.
Parker, Colo. -- Alicia Demino.

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