Grant STEMs development

January 25, 2016

Federal funding allocated through the Department of Public Instruction provides for professional development

An initiative underway between the state’s two educational agencies is aiming to increase professional development opportunities for high school teachers throughout the state.

The Department of Public Instruction and the North Dakota University System institutions are working together to help deliver multiple Math and Science Partnership (MSP) Grants. One such grant, “Implementing Integrative STEM Education in the Classroom,” allows the Great Plains STEM Education Center (GPSEC) at Valley City State University to provide 36 high school teachers with an expanded knowledge base to take back to their respective classrooms.

GPSEC Director Jamie Wirth said a lot of coordination went into creating the workshops. Nearly $300,000 was awarded through DPI from the federal MSP program, and has largely gone to fund professional development including workshop materials, travel costs, paying for the cost of the graduate-level credits, classroom materials and a modest stipend for the teachers enrolled.

“The lesson plan ideas and classroom activity ideas, they’re all based on the idea of giving the teachers every advantage when they go back into their classrooms and instruct their students,” Wirth said. “There’s been a lot of excitement, and I would say that the workshops have been overwhelmingly positive.”

Wirth developed the workshops with his colleague Dr. Gary Ketterling based on workshops they’d been a part of in the past and STEM curriculum they found useful. Based on that information they put together agendas, schedules, activities and a well-rounded experience the teachers have been regarding as totally positive.

“The teachers are excited about the professional development training,” Wirth added. “We’ve made visits to seven of the eight schools to run a Family Engineering Night for kids, their parents, and interested community members. At these nights they can experience engineering design elements. As far as in the classroom – teachers are already starting to implement things in their classrooms and feedback has been highly positive.”

Lauren Sako, a science teacher for Kensal Public Schools, said the professional development she’d been a part of had been extraordinary. Sako, who teaches science to students in grades 5-12, said she’d been informed of the professional development from her superintendent last fall. From that time she was able to gather more information and spread the word at her school to find other interested teachers.

The daylong workshops have been held one Saturday each month since November and will continue through March, with a weeklong STEM course this June. The workshops will offer insight into the engineering design process, and how educators can bring that content into their classrooms. Four STEM disciplines are broken down into the following topics: coding experience; family engineering; using inquiry in the classroom; technology in a bag; the Engineering Design Process; LEGO Robotics; and teachers working with EV3 video. So far, they’ve offered dynamic topics.

“We did spend a good portion of the last workshop working with programming robots and I learned I need a lot more practice,” Sako noted. “We also watched a company go through the engineering process redesigning a shopping cart. I plan on showing at least part of that video to students for them to get a better understanding that there can be many ways to solve a problem, and that there is a fair amount of brainstorming and research that goes into designing a product/the engineering process.”

Sako has already been able to bring some of the knowledge to the classroom.

“With the first workshop, our school chose to sign up for the Hour of Code and have students work on coding as a way to bring STEM into the classroom,” she said. “In addition to that, the elementary classes did a tower building project that students really enjoyed.

“As for my classroom, I have been working on a way to incorporate engineering into the biology curriculum dealing with protein structure and function,” Sako added. “I plan on working through the details of an assignment with students next week and having them give it a try.Sako noted that she was pleasantly surprised with a professional development-inspired family engineering night, which brought many parents into the fold.

“I will say that I was really surprised at our family engineering night – those families who attended stayed the whole two hours working at the projects at each station,” she said. “They were very involved and made it a fun family night of learning.”

She concluded that she would recommend the development to others.

“Any professional development that provides hands-on practice and some usable ideas is invaluable,” Sako said.

Video from the Family Engineering Nights at Edgeley can be seen here.

Wirth added that the teachers enrolled in the workshops have found them to be rewarding, positive and beneficial.

“Our mission at GPSEC is to bring STEM education to the K-12 world,” he said. “Obviously our grant from DPI and participation from eight schools helps make sure that we’re fulfilling that mission.”

Schools participating in the project include Edgeley, Enderlin, Ellendale, Kensal, LaMoure, Lidgerwood and McClusky. Additionally, GPSEC has worked with other institutions within the NDUS, including North Dakota State College of Science and North Dakota State University. Mayville State University and University of North Dakota have also been awarded MSP grants.