STEM Series: Summer Teaching Institute Update and Industry Tours

September 18, 2014

Early this spring, we announced the development of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub 2014 Summer Teaching Institute. The Institute focused on Project Based Learning and STEM Careers and featured tours of local industry (see blog post from March for background info:  Why Integrate STEM and Project Based Learning).

Teachers working on their lesson plans

Teachers working on their lesson plans

Twenty four teachers from ten local school districts participated in the inaugural Summer STEM Institute during the week of August 11th.  Highlights of the week included each teacher visiting two local companies that support STEM education and hire students into STEM careers.  Ten companies and municipal organizations supported the teachers by providing highly personalized tours and discussions.  The local companies and municipal organizations included:  Rochester General Hospital Laboratory, Day Automation, Optimax, Sentry Safe, Sweetwater Energy, Gorbel Crane, Renewable Rochester, RGR Transit Authority, VanLare Wastewater, and the DEC at Linear Park.

Teachers also met local engineers during networking lunches.  Engineers from Harris Corporation, Barton & Loguidice, Pictometry, Larsen, Pathfinder, Optimation, MRB Group, Stack Dog Solutions, Xerox, and NOHMs Technologies came and spoke to teachers about their personal career paths and the companies they worked for, and then answered questions about how the lessons teachers were developing connected to real world use.

Teachers also had time to learn about problem based learning (PBL) and reflect upon and share what they saw during their tours.  They had significant time to work together to develop and update lesson plans.  At the end of the week, teachers created posters and shared their results with the entire group in a poster session.

The highlights of the week included the following:

  • Teachers found the industry tours and networking lunches with engineers highly valuable in linking what they teach to real-world applications.
  • Teachers enjoyed meeting other colleagues from around the region and sharing ideas and best practices.
  • Teachers valued having time to work on and develop their ideas in an environment that included resources to support curriculum writing, technology, standards, and subject area content.
  • Teachers were surprised and energized by the outpouring of support and encouragement they experienced from our local companies.
  • Teachers gained new insights about the experiences and skills that industries value most in future employees.
  • Teachers were excited about the connections they made to industry and other community resources. Many of the teachers gained new contacts that offered to act as a future resource to their classroom.

The teachers will be getting back together once this fall and also again in the spring to follow up and share their experiences in implementing their PBL lessons. The lessons developed during this Institute will be posted on our website in late November. Keep an eye out for news about future Summer Institute, which will also be highlighted on our website.

This STEM Series will continue with a focus on the industry tours that Institute participants attended.  Each company that provided a tour will be highlighted over the next couple of weeks.

Dr. Bruce Capron is the Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations at the Honeoye Falls – Lima Central School District.  He is an active member of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub Steering Committee, and served on the Committee that organized the Summer Institute.

Problem-based Learning at the Rochester STEM High School

October 26, 2011

Charles, Lway, Selena, Corrina and Kameron share their research on teen pregnancy

Yesterday I attended a poster symposium put on by students of the Academy of Health Science (AOHS) at the Rochester City School District STEM High School. Since I spent two weeks with the STEM faculty in a summer institute on teaching through Problem-based learning, I was excited to participate in the culminating activity of the first problem.

About 6 weeks ago, the students of AOHS were presented with a real life problem regarding teen pregnancy and STDs in the Rochester area.  Each Wednesday, students researched, participated in lab activities, and learned about different aspects of to this important topic.  As a culminating activity, students created a tri-fold displaying what they’ve learned and solutions to help teens with this current health crisis.

Students worked in groups of four or five and created posters to present their research. Most students found the topic deeply engaging and relevant. According to Charles Nash, a tenth grader at STEM,

“Having a baby changes your life. You lose your childhood when you become a parent..its really hard”.

I asked the students what was the most surprising information they learned though their research and learned some surprising statistics:

  • One-in-four U.S. teens get pregnant by age 18.
  • The US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world.
  • 20% of US teens live in poverty.

Asked about their sources of information, students gave a range of responses, although clearly the internet is a primary source of information.  Several student groups cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or told me they limited their online sources to those ending in  .gov, .org or .edu. Clearly, these students are learning not only the content, but also about the importance of distinguishing  credible from noncredible sources of online information.

In addition to asking about the research project itself, I also asked students how they felt about learning through Problem-Based Learning, as opposed to through traditional classroom instruction. All of the students I spoke with said they preferred it, believed they learned more and felt they were more likely to remember what they learned than through traditional instruction. Corrina Soto, a ninth grader at STEM summed it up nicely when she said,

“Its nice, you can teach yourself, instead of a boring lecture. It helps you know more when you teach yourself. When you put it in your own brain, it stays there”.

The research on learning backs up Corrina’s observation…active learning in context does indeed support longer-term memory. Bravo STEM HS!