Teaching teachers – Instructors head back to school for STEM education

A handful of educators became students again as the Don A. Christiansen Regional Water Treatment Plant in Orem opened its doors to teach teachers about the science of water and integrating STEM techniques into their classrooms.

“For us, teaching the teacher makes the most sense,” said Monica Hoyt, education and public outreach director for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. “They’re going to affect more children and more students than we can going out into to the classroom one at a time.”

Hoyt estimated that though there were less than ten educators at the session, that those teachers would affect roughly 1,800 students.

“We looked at what water touches, which is a lot of different areas of science, and so we’ve developed a curriculum for the teachers,” Hoyt said. The curriculum created generally covers grades 9-12, but focuses on the middle school level.

Hoyt explained that there are lots of great educational information on the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math available to teachers, but not all of it meets Common Core requirements.

“We are Common Core compatible,” said Shannon Babb, a partner educator for the water conservancy district and also with Thalweg Education Innovations. “There’s a lot of STEM opportunities that aren’t. For a lot of educators, they don’t have time to figure out how to modify a curriculum or a program to meet the requirements the Legislature has given them.”

Hoyt explained that teachers often take bits and pieces of information, check to see if and where it meets Common Core requirements, and then figure out how to implement it into their own curriculum.

“We’ve done all the pulling of the Common Core together for the teachers, so it almost becomes almost a plug-and-play for them,” Hoyt said. “If we can make a teacher’s life easier by giving them a curriculum that’s written around the Common Core and we’ve pulled that together for them, it really saves them a lot of time.”

“The goal of this curriculum is really to help both traditional and nontraditional educators feel really comfortable about implementing hands-on environmental science in their classrooms,” said Babb, who wrote the program’s curriculum.

In today’s cost-conscious world, the program pioneered a few cost-effective experiments to pass on to teachers. One tasked students with creating their own microscope for about $0.25. The microscope uses a block of wood, Popsicle sticks, clothespins, a piece of a folder and a drop of water to create a rough-and-tumble way of magnifying objects.

“We’ve given the teachers a kit that has a lot of these things to do these experiments because teachers are taking money out of their own pockets to teach our children, and it’s the least we can do is provide them the supplies,” said Hoyt.

Eleven higher-end microscopes were also made available for teachers to rent out, too, for experiments.

As the teachers were taught, they also were able to experience facilities unlike many of their classrooms.

“Oftentimes educators don’t get to have one-on-one experiences with scientists and they don’t get to work in working laboratories or industrial settings,” said Babb. “So, one of the great things about being able to hold the training here is because this facility does real-life science every day of the year.”

In addition to STEM education, the program looks to promote water conservancy in an area that’s seeing rapid growth.

“By 2060, we anticipate the population of Utah to double, but our water is not going to double,” said Hoyt.

That statistic, found by Prepare60, raises questions as to what people can do to make a finite amount of water serve an exponentially-growing population.

“I can’t think of a better way than training up our young people; that they’re aware of water and its vital role in the community, and that’s what we’re doing by teaching these teachers,” said Hoyt.

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