Improving students' performance in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—otherwise known as STEM education—is Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics’
ultimate vision for students from pre-school to college.
“We host students on campus, serve as liaison between public schools, faculty and resources on campus, support undergraduate research, fund certain staff positions, and promote active learning on campus,” says John Farrar, CINSAM director. The term is typically used in addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools from kindergarten through college to improve the nation's competitiveness in technology development.
Last year, the organization piloted the Next Generation STEM Classroom program, though it has been involved with professional development throughout public schools in Northern Kentucky for years.
“The way the project works now is we have a fishbowl where our outreach specialists go and model an active learning lesson with the kids, and the teachers then observe,” Farrar says. “Then at the end, after the kids leave, they have recap sessions, and that’s really a time for them to reflect on what they saw, evaluate it, and focus on content and curriculum.”
Rather than conducting professional development sessions in a setting where Farrar says “experts” from higher education come in and “tell the teachers what they’re doing wrong,” CINSAM instead focuses on a collaborative learning opportunity.
One particularly effective lesson that Farrar enjoys is an interactive one in which a plastic fish in a bowl slowly disappears as the students add things like fertilizer, potting soil and oil to mimic the effects of pollution.
“And then they talk about—OK, what should we do about that? How can we clean up that water?” Farrar says. “So the kids go through an experiment where they look at cleaning up the water. So what kind of filters would you use? They have a coffee filter that they can add different things to—sand or gravel or charcoal, different things, and they’re not told how to put this together really—they investigate in this lesson what works to clean up the water and what doesn’t work.”
Farrar says teachers are pleased, and test results indicate progress for the students who have been involved.
“We hope that kids are, of course, knowledgeable about science, but that they think like scientists—they know how to approach problems—they know how to do critical thinking,” Farrar says. “And I’m thinking this project really has potential to be a larger effort. I really do believe that it’s the best way or a best practice in teaching teachers—in training them—and so it’s something that could really become something beyond just our region. It really is effective in having the teachers learn, but then as the teachers learn, they can transfer that to their students, and that’s what we’re all about—making sure the students get good educations.”
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By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at both the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.