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Elementary educators take seat in classroom to learn STEM instruction

Elementary school teachers turned into students this week on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus. Nearly 70 educators were on campus during the week of June 24 to play with guitars and balloons, Slinkys and Woopee Cushions, noisemakers and straws. Really though, the hands-on play time was focused on educating educators about STEM-based activities as part of the K-5 STEM Summer Institute program.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the goal of the continuing education opportunity is to educate teachers about the fields of study so they can, in turn, teach and show elementary-aged children that STEM subjects are interesting areas of study. 

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“STEM education is rapidly changing as societal demands change,” said Eric Brunsell, associate education professor and project director. “A strong understanding of science, math, engineering and technology is critical from a workforce development standpoint.”

Teachers from Fond du Lac, Menasha, Racine, Kenosha and Oshkosh came to campus as part of the programming, which is funded by a three-year, U.S. Department of Education grant. The K-5 STEM Summer Institute project is led by scientists, mathematicians and educators from UW Oshkosh.

“We’re really being taught what to teach in our classrooms,” said Heidi Jones, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Kenosha, as she worked with her group to study vibrations via sound. “As elementary school teachers, we don’t have to take a lot of science classes so this really helps me help my students in applying science.”

Through the program, teachers participate in two, one-week summer institutes on campus and a variety of school-year activities as classroom projects.

“I really like this hands-on approach,” said Darlene Christianson, also an elementary school teacher in Kenosha. “Essentially, they are showing us vocabulary words through demonstration.”

Throughout his instruction, Brunsell gave many examples and ideas that participating teachers can use in their own instruction.

“The purpose of this is to bring useable ideas back to the classroom,” said Kim Svejda, a first-grade teacher in Menasha.

 

According to Brunsell, research shows that if children are not engaged in science by fifth grade, it’s likely they will never be, stressing the importance of academic instruction in STEM-related topics.

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