Program plants STEM at area schools

Engineering faculty-created summer initiative gives teachers skills and connections to take their students to the next level

| Author: Gary H. Piatek

"This program has changed the way I teach," said Ron Ratkos, an 11-year adjunct professor at Mid Michigan College in Harrison.

"It's different from how I was taught when I was growing up," said Natalie Brown, a senior at Central Michigan University pursuing a bachelor's degree in secondary education.

The program that brought them together this summer is a unique six-week STEM initiative created by CMU engineering faculty. The focus is to help area teachers — from middle school to community college, and soon-to-be teachers — learn engineering concepts and create fun and interactive lessons for use in their classrooms.

It also aligns with the focus on STEM education in Michigan and its leadership role in adopting multistate Next Generation Science Standards.

"They are not just designing lesson plans. We are giving them a real hands-on engineering research project," said Kumar Yelamarthi, an electrical and computer engineering faculty member and director-elect of the School of Engineering and Technology.

"They are getting firsthand knowledge of what engineers do, what the engineering process is like," said Yelamarthi, who designed the program.

Circle of learning

New participants become part of a circle of learning each summer.

After their six weeks at CMU, when school starts, the teachers present their engineering lesson to their students, who bring the concepts to life.

The teachers and students are invited back to CMU in the fall for a STEM day, where the students — and teachers — get to show off what they've created and learn from each other. The students also are given an engineering task and tour the College of Science and Engineering.

The hands-on opportunities, relevance, collaboration and lifelong connections are what make the program unique, Ratkos and Bowen said.

"What grabbed me at first was that I would actually be involved in a real research project," said Ratkos, a repeat particant. "Everything I've learned has been useful, and it fits really well into the Next Generation Science Standards, preparing students for college."

Bowen, from Grosse Ile, Michigan, wants to teach high school in Michigan and eventually abroad. She said the program was a little out of her comfort zone at first.

"But everyone has been really helpful. We all collaborated well, and it's been a great networking opportunity."

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