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Summer training boosts local STEM education
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During the two-week STEP in STEM program sponsored by TI, teachers learned effective techniques for teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in classrooms.

Theresa Oriabure, a biology teacher at Hillcrest High School, scoffs at the notion that teachers take summers off.

"We use the summers as a chance to learn," Oriabure said. "I try to take advantage of opportunities where we can learn new ways to engage our students."

Oriabure and 18 other teachers from school districts across North Texas took advantage of such an opportunity last month at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) for a two-week summer enhancement program called "STEP in STEM," sponsored by TI.

The new "STEP in STEM" program was designed to provide content and training for secondary school teachers, while developing a project-based curriculum in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Teachers receive state-required development credits and a stipend for their participation.

"STEM education is critical, and to prepare our students for the future, we need to globally employ the best teaching practices so that all students can learn," Oriabure said. She added that the summer program encourages teachers to implement new technologies and incorporate them into current teaching methods.

"We are working to meet the demand for practical, authentic, project-based STEM curriculum in the classroom, which has been an ongoing challenge for schools throughout Texas," said Dr. Cynthia Ledbetter, UTD professor of science and mathematics education. "Teachers struggle with statewide testing, school curriculum and student performance; many do not have the time nor support to collaborate and create meaningful STEM lessons."

The Center for STEM Education and Research (C-SER) at UTD provides educational expertise in project-based STEM curriculum development. A $25,000 grant from TI funded the "STEP in STEM" program, which utilized support from TI technical experts who worked with the teachers and led informational visits to TI's Kilby Labs, Education Technology (Ed Tech) headquarters, Richardson wafer fabrication facility (RFAB) and DLP™ Products demonstration center.

TI Ed Tech also provided on-site assistance and expertise in the effective use of technology in STEM projects and education. All of the projects proposed by the educators used TI Ed Tech handheld technology. TI-Nspire handhelds and computer software served a variety of uses in the STEM projects — data collection, analyzing curves, manipulating calculations, exploring data — even mathematical and scientific writing and presentations.

"We have been working in this area for quite a while, most recently exemplified by our professional development programs 'Connecting Science and Mathematics' and STEM activities in our 'Science Nspired' supplemental curriculum offering," said Lisa Brady-Gill, executive director of TI Ed Tech North America Marketing. "We continue to look for opportunities to incorporate Project-Based Learning into our offerings so that we can best support STEM educators preparing their students for college and career readiness."

"TI and UT Dallas recognized the need for a strategic program that leverages the university’s expertise in project-based learning and helps teachers engage students by bringing real-life, real-work experiences to the curriculum," said Arturo Sanchez, TI director of education and workforce development. "TI can help build the future technical workforce by providing resources that help teachers teach and students learn."

"We went to TI this week, and it was amazing," Oriabure said. "We had a chance to look at some of the newest technologies being developed for the classroom."

She was particularly impressed with a newly-designed projector that doesn't require filters — a feature she conceded might seem mundane to the average person.

"But for us, that's instruction time we can save by not having to have a technician come to the class and change out the filter," she said. "We also saw some 3-D technology that can be used as a tool to enhance our lessons."

Finding motivators
Carol Wingard, a teacher of eighth-grade math at Dealey International Academy, said the project-based curriculum gives students a framework and motivation for learning.

"In order to meet the challenge of teaching them what they need to learn, we have to keep them motivated," Wingard said. "Combining technology and adjusting classroom strategies helps us achieve that goal."

Texas STEM academies' teachers who are taking part in the curriculum development program come from area secondary schools within the Texas STEM network supported by Texas Education Agency and Texas High School Project. The participating academies are Berkner STEM Academy in Richardson, Emmett J. Conrad STEM Academy in Dallas and Jack E Singley IT & Engineering Academy in Irving. Some participants came from other schools, including several TI Foundation STEM Fellows and future teachers from UTD's UTeach program, which has received grants from the TI Foundation.

UTD's Jonsson School and the Science and Engineering Education Center are co-developers and supporters of the project. Each has played a role in the conceptualization, design and execution of the program.

The program's ultimate goals include:

  • Developing integrated STEM curriculum specifically geared toward high school content in engineering, science, and mathematics.
  • Aligning state standards with curriculum to meet student learning goals.
  • Embedding project-based approaches within the curriculum to provide real-world connections and encourage the use of 21st-century skills.
  • Allowing teachers to interact with business professionals to build an ongoing support and network opportunities.
  • Providing evaluation of "STEP in STEM" and follow up with teachers in their classroom implementation.
The teachers who participated for this first year will be able to test the curriculum within their classroom during the upcoming school year and provide feedback for next summer's program. Participants were also able to create their own blogs to share information on their progress.

"We believe that this program provides very meaningful experiences for outstanding STEM educators who continually seek to improve their teaching," Arturo said. "We hope this collaboration can be expanded next summer with additional corporate partners to make it even more valuable and reach more teachers."

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