Ursuline students Anne Marie Tedesco and Jensen Concannon create foam gliders for test flights.

STEM lessons

High school teachers, students gain hands-on experience at UD's ISE Lab

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1:44 p.m., June 27, 2014--The University of Delaware’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab) was buzzing with activity last week, as more than 60 high school students from throughout the state launched foam gliders along the hallways, mopped up miniature oil spills in basins of water and used the learning labs to investigate the effects of acid rain.

The students were learning, but so were their teachers — a dozen teams of science and math teachers from as many high schools, all testing out model lesson plans they had developed over the past several months.

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Supported by a state Department of Education Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grant, the summer institute was just the latest professional development exercise for these teachers from public and private high schools. They previously came to ISE Lab in February to begin developing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) lesson plans they presented to students last week.

The students were selected by teachers, some because of demonstrated interest and talent in STEM fields and others because educators saw their potential to pursue and excel in those areas.

Since the February workshops at UD, the participating teachers have worked together at their home schools, refining and revising their model lessons, with input from colleagues and from their students, said Jon Manon, associate director in the Delaware Center for Teacher Education and co-director for the MSP grant. The grant’s other co-director is John Jungck, professor and director of the DuPont Science Learning Laboratories, the instructional wing of ISE Lab.

In presenting the lessons to students last week, the teachers had another opportunity to assess the hands-on activities they developed and to observe one another’s work.

“These teachers all came in with one, 90-minute laboratory-integrated experience for their students, and they all get to go home with 11 more,” Manon said. “We expect that they’ll continue to share these lessons with other teachers at their schools.”

The goal, he said, is not only to create quality, hands-on lessons but also to show students how solving problems in the real world requires an interdisciplinary approach. The lessons required students to use a mix of skills and knowledge, from chemistry, biology and physics to engineering, computer science and math.

In one of the ISE Lab rooms, Samantha Neubert, who teaches environmental science and biology at Appoquinimink High School, watched her students figuring out ways to clean up oil spills they had modeled in tubs of water. Oil was dripping slowly into each container, and the students were trying such methods as sprinkling sand and gently sweeping the surface of the water with a coffee filter to try to contain and then remove the oil.

“This is the sixth time this lab has been run as a lesson, and it’s gone from really basic to fairly elaborate because of the input from students,” Neubert said, noting that students had to stick to a budget for their supplies and learn to perform a variety of calculations to mathematically evaluate their cleanup success.

“It’s been a lot of work — we started developing these lessons in January — but it’s been a lot of fun, too. Working with the team of teachers has been very valuable to me; everybody sees what the others teach, and everybody has expertise that lets them suggest different components of the project.”

After the first half of next school year, the teachers will get together at UD again in January for additional collaboration, and Manon hopes the program will continue after that as well, with ISE Lab serving as a wide-ranging resource for Delaware educators. “We’re always looking for more ways to nurture the community we’re developing here,” he said.

Teachers participate in Materials Camp

ISE Lab was the setting for another recent professional development program for STEM teachers, with 36 educators from middle and high schools throughout Delaware attending the ASM Materials Camp the week of June 23-27.

The program was a collaboration between UD’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Brandywine Valley Chapter of ASM, an international association of materials scientists and engineers. Teachers learned the basics of materials science technology, focusing on instruction at a high school level, and worked hands-on with such materials as ceramics, metals, polymers and composites.

The ASM Materials Education Foundation offers such camps across the U.S. and internationally, with a goal of helping teachers incorporate materials science into their lessons and use the field as a tool to inspire student interest in STEM disciplines.

Article by Ann Manser

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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