Teachers academy makes learning more relevant
Published on Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Sixty elementary, middle, and high school teachers recently wrapped up an intensive two-week summer academy designed to show them how to integrate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts plus real-world application into their classes. This professional development is a major component of a three-year project funded by a United States Department of Education grant to help increase student achievement in math and science.
The $600,000 grant was awarded to the Western Wisconsin STEM Consortium, a group of K-12 school districts, higher education institutions, and local businesses. Members of the consortium include the school districts of Bangor, Black River Falls, Cashton, LaFarge, Mauston, Melrose-Mindoro, Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton, Royall, and Sparta; the University of Wisconsin-Stout; Western Technical College; CESA #4, and western Wisconsin business partners.
The academy focused on the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources career cluster. The majority of the two-week training was held at held at Western Technical College’s La Crosse Campus, where faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and Western provided instruction on how to strengthen K-12 teaching and learning strategies in math and science. But, participants were also able to experience hands-on activities at several off-site locations, including Fort McCoy, Burr Oak Winery in New Lisbon, and St. Brigid’s Meadow Organic Farm in Coon Valley.
“I’m bringing back a ton of ideas from the Fort McCoy experience,” said Roxanne Kravik, a science, math, and reading teacher from Sparta Middle School. “I’m excited to utilize Fort McCoy with my students and make my teaching more contextual.”
Kravik was particularly inspired by the Orienteering station at Fort McCoy, where participants used a compass and then a GPS to navigate around a course. “I can see how my sixth grade students could use this process in a lot of different ways.”
The activities also inspired teachers outside of math and science subjects. Randy Fabian, technical education instructor from Mauston, learned how studying forestry can show his construction students the importance of math and science in their future jobs.
“We learned about maintaining forests, estimating the age of a forest, determining the amount of lumber in a tree and what it can be used for,” said Fabian. “I was hesitant coming into this academy, wondering how it would help me in my department. But now I see that there are so many ways I can integrate math and science into my classes. I’m looking forward to developing these ideas and using them in the future.”
“The academy has performed beyond our expectations,” said Jerrilyn Brewer, grant developer for the Sparta and Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton school districts, who serves as the principle investigator for the grant. “The level of engagement from the participants, combined with the level of expertise of the trainers and the usefulness of the on-site activities has been phenomenal.”
Charles Bomar, Applied Science program director from UW-Stout agreed. “This has been a good two weeks. Teachers are getting a little out of their box and trying something new. Many are reluctant to start, but when the two weeks are up, they are more exploratory in thinking of new ways to enhance curriculum in their classrooms.”
Throughout the summer and fall, participants will work to complete projects that will be integrated into their classrooms in the spring. The same teachers will attend additional academies for the next two years, focusing on different career clusters.
“It’s a huge commitment to be part of this activity, but it’s definitely worthwhile,” said Jordan Arneson, high school math teacher from LaFarge. “I’m one of the youngest teachers here, and it’s great to see what the veteran teachers are doing. Plus, it will really help me answer the questions kids have about how what they are learning relates to real life.”