CLAYTON -- Students at Clayton Middle School are going to benefit from sixth grade teacher Lauren Sabo’s summer vacation.
Sabo was one of 50 teachers accepted to study at Siemen’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Institute in Washington D.C.
“STEM education is about preparing students for jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” Sabo explained.
During her week of training at the Discovery Education Center in a suburb of Washington D.C., the teachers attended discussions by professionals in different fields of STEM research. Meteorologist Reed Timmer of the program “Storm Chasers” discussed climatological research and ways to bring the study of meteorology to the classroom. Field trips to the Smithsonian Institute allowed for a behind-the-scenes tour of gems and minerals by leading scientists.
“I came back from the trip with a completely different view of the classroom and how things need to operate,” Sabo said. “Already I’m incorporating more technology into the curriculum.”
After attending the seminar participants are required to submit a project that they complete over the course of the school year. “We need to use one of the approaches that we learned a lot about in the seminar and integrate it into our project.”
Flipping the classroom
A particular area of interest to Sabo is the idea of “flipped” classrooms. In this approach teachers do all of their lecturing on video that students watch for homework. When the student returns to class the next day the majority of the class time can be used for application of the lecture they watched the night before.
This technique is currently being used more frequently on the high school level rather than in middle school classrooms.
Driven by the idea of flipped classrooms, Sabo’s project is a modified approach designed to work for middle-schoolers.
“Often in math parents complain that they can’t help their children with their math homework because it has been so long since they used those skills. So I’ve decided to create a video blog that I’ll do throughout the year. I will load videos on [the blog] of me teaching the lessons so that parents and students can access them at home for homework and preparation for tests,” Sabo explained. Students that do not have access to a computer at home will receive burned DVD’s they can watch on standard DVD players.
The second portion of the project involves the students using the same video technology to present the science curriculum to their fellow students and parents. Students working in small groups will research specific topics to present on video. “This approach teaches critical thinking, collaboration and creation.”
“We are preparing them with the 21st century skills that they need in order to be successful in these careers. We aren’t preparing them adequately by sitting there doing math problems out of a book. You don’t do that in your daily career. You have to problem solve and get along with your peers. The idea is that they are working collaboratively to create their own content,” Sabo said.
One of Sabo’s early projects for her students this year is having them research jobs in the STEM fields. “A lot of students don’t know what kind of jobs are out there. Learning that there really are video game designers and they really do make a lot of money is eye-opening for some of these kids,” Sabo said. “Making them aware of the variety of STEM jobs is a first step.”
Sabo learned about the Siemen’s STEM Institute from an email that she received from the Johnston County school system. She was one of 1,000 applicants nationwide for the seminar.
“I hope other teachers in middle and high school seek the program out,” she said. Her fellow Siemen participants were from all over the United States. “I found that a lot of the teachers I met were lateral entry teachers; people that had come to teaching from other related fields, like computer programming.” The teachers will maintain contact throughout the year through the Internet.
Sabo said the collaboration with the other teachers was as valuable to her as the prepared seminars. “The other teachers brought so much to the table. It really pushes you to want to do more in your own classroom.”