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Teaching the teachers: Elon faculty share STEM study ideas with local educators

The day-long professional development workshop for area teachers was supported by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. 

Alamance County middle school teachers Monique Bellerand and Heather Bagnell carefully measured the ingredients for a solution to help extract the DNA from a handful of strawberries inside a third-floor classroom at McMichael Science Center at Elon on Tuesday. 

Middle school teachers Heather Bagnell, left, and Monique Bellerand, center, work with the help of Elon Professor Vickie Moore on a chemistry experiment extracting DNA material from strawberries that is designed for their students . (Elon University/Owen Covington)

And with the help of Elon's Vickie Moore, an assistant professor of chemistry, the pair then pulled the gooey string of genetic material from the mix, prompting words of amazement. 

It's a chemistry experiment their students could be undertaking in their own classrooms this fall, thanks to a new program held Aug. 16 that offered Elon faculty a chance to share ideas for teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects to students in kindergarten through high school. 

"The fact that we can bring this back to the classroom and implement it is exciting," said Bagnell, who teaches at Graham Middle School. 

The all-day program of professional development workshops was organized by Dave Gammon, associate professor of biology, and Martin Kamela, associate professor and chair of the physics department, with the help of more than a dozen fellow Elon faculty members as a way to help provide local school teachers with ideas for how to generate excitement around STEM fields inside the classroom. The program was supported by Elon and a grant of nearly $5,300 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. 

Elon Physics Professor Martin Kamela, second from left, shares demonstrations with local school teachers that help explain the different types of waveforms. (Elon University/Owen Covington)

‚Äč"In each one of the workshops, we've tried to share some ideas you might try in the classroom," Gammon said. 

More than 60 teachers, primarily from the Alamance-Burlington School System but also from Alamance County private schools as well as schools in Guilford and Durham counties, gathered for morning and afternoon sessions. They were led by more than 15 Elon faculty members in fields including biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, environmental studies. 

The idea is that these Elon professors will make connections with workshop participants who will be able to call on them for assistance and ideas on an ongoing basis, Gammon said. 

"We're sharing our email addresses with them and telling them to please follow up with us, consider us a consultant during the next year," Gammon said. 

Among the Elon faculty teaching the teachers Tuesday was Claudine Moreau, a lecturer in physics who was offering ideas for conveying astronomical concepts to children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The teachers put themselves in the place of their students, walking through the steps of each activity to get a sense of how students will learn and engage. Moreau said she's offering ideas that are different from merely static lecturing. 

"If they are younger kids, I want to get them up and moving — doing things, and taking measurements," Moreau said. 

Gammon said Tuesday's workshop fits into a larger, long-term plan to develop a center for science and society at Elon that would bring scientific study to a broader audience, and create more connections between science and society at-large. 

"We want a place that really connects science and STEM education to the broader community," Gammon said. 

Owen Covington,
8/16/2016 2:20 PM