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Teachers become students through Elon's STEM workshops

About 60 area teachers will attend workshops at Elon centered around innovative ways to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics to K-12 students.

Teachers from surrounding schools work through the design for a "snowball igloo" as part of the "Engineering Solutions for Storybook Characters" workshop on Wednesday, Aug. 16. 

Preparing for an afternoon workshop in Elon's McMichael Science Center Wednesday, a group of teachers from Haw River Elementary School brainstormed about how they might use green screen technology in their classrooms once students return to school. 

One offered the idea of creating a video of students literally diving into a book to help encourage reading. Another teacher imagined students using the technology along with pictures of their family to explain their family trees. 

Tony Crider, associate professor of physics, talks with a group of students about ways to teach about the partial solar eclipse that will occur on Monday, Aug. 21 as part of a series of STEM workshops at Elon. 

"Everything that we've experienced and learned this morning was hands-on," said Elizabeth Walker, a kindergarten teacher at Haw River. "We got to play, and experience what it's like from the student's perspective."

That's precisely the idea behind the STEM workshops, which are in their second year at Elon. Organized by Dave Gammon, associate professor of biology, and Martin Kamela, associate professor of physics, the workshops for area K-12 teachers are designed to turn teachers into students as they are exposed to innovative ways to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in their classrooms. From there, they can take those ideas and make them their own, or use them to spark new ideas, as the Haw River Elementary teachers did. 

"If you talk to a lot of people on the street about their experience with science, they might think back to classes when they were children that were cold and distant," Gammon said. "We want to change all that, and a way you can do that is to help motivate teachers. If science teachers are motivated and bringing interesting things into the classroom, their students will be motivated."

Across two days of workshops on Aug. 16 and 18, about 60 teachers participated in workshops taught by Elon University faculty representing a range of disciplines. Originally funded by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, the workshops have received positive feedback from the teachers who attended, with an overwhelming majority of past participants saying they left with ideas they plan to implement in the classroom. The workshops have continued thanks to the support of the deans of the School of Education and Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences.

Teachers explore mobility and activity items as they consider ways to incorporate neuroscience and movement education into the classroom as part of the "Motor Matters" workshop. 

During an afternoon workshop titled, "Engineering Solutions for Storybook Characters," Associate Professor of Engineering Sirena Hargrove-Leak explained that she wanted to offer a fun and interesting way to introduce elementary school students to engineering. The workshop focused on using the storylines in books children were reading to spark engineering-related classroom activities. 

For instance, Hargrove-Leak drew from the book, "The Snowy Day," to challenge the teachers in her workshop to craft an igloo to prevent a snowball from melting. Groups of teachers were given materials such as foil, bubble wrap and newspaper to build their igloo, and taught about the three modes of heat transfer — conduction, convection and radiation — to help guide their design. 

"We want to give you the sense of what your students will experience," Hargrove-Leak said. "These activities really do model the work of practicing engineers. It follows that same thought process."

Gammon said the workshops also build connections between Elon faculty members, more than a dozen of whom will lead workshops this year, and teachers in local schools. The hope is that these participating teachers will draw upon the resources and expertise of Elon faculty as they look at new ways to present STEM subjects to young learners, Gammon said. 

"I am confident that as we continue to do things like this, it will have a broad impact on our surrounding community, and that's a good thing for Elon," Gammon said. 

Owen Covington,
8/17/2017 7:50 AM