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Partnership Brings STEM Concepts to Life for Area K-12 Students

Activities to teach science, math and creative thinking were the focus for four days when Pennsylvania College of Technology partnered with BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 (which serves the needs of schools in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties) to provide training from the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center.

For two days, 40 middle school teachers from across the state gathered in the college’s Penn’s Inn, where curriculum designers from NICERC led them through hands-on activities that the teachers can, in turn, use in their classrooms. For the next two days, high school teachers gathered.

The activities implement the “engineering design process.” In one of three modules middle school teachers practiced, they used common items – plastic foam cups, straws and cotton balls – to devise a vessel that would protect an egg when it was dropped from a second-floor balcony.

Keith Cremer, left, an eighth-grade science teacher in the South Williamsport Area School District, and Dan Zerbe, who teaches STEM and other courses in the East Lycoming School District, strategize to use the materials on hand to slow down the vessel that they’ve designed to carry an egg from a second-floor balcony to the ground level.
Keith Cremer, left, an eighth-grade science teacher in the South Williamsport Area School District, and Dan Zerbe, who teaches STEM and other courses in the East Lycoming School District, strategize to use the materials on hand to slow down the vessel that they’ve designed to carry an egg from a second-floor balcony to the ground level.

The egg-drop project is not new to science classrooms, but the NICERC lesson plan incorporates liberal arts and the engineering design process to help students see a real-life correlation to their assignment and to develop their skills in creative problem-solving. In this exercise, the vessel represents supplies being dropped to refugees.

After most eggs broke during an initial design test, the teachers were tasked with steps 1 and 2 of the engineering design process: identifying and researching the problem. To incorporate a social science element, and to add meaning to their work, each team studied a historical food drop, identifying issues that would be important to getting the supplies safely to their intended recipients. They also identified physics facts that would help them in their next design.

After research, they brainstormed vessel designs, developed a prototype, tested and evaluated it, then improved and redesigned their concept. Meanwhile, they followed a fictitious budget and completed a cost report, and they measured the mass of their vessel to calculate both shipping costs and potential energy of the dropped package. Creativity was further incorporated when each team wrote about a historic food drop, either as a journal entry from someone involved or as a news report.

“The NICERC hands-on resources and curriculum are making STEM come alive for our middle school students and teachers,” said Jesse Maine, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Southern Tioga School District.

“Our partnership with Penn College and NICERC has provided our local school districts with nationally recognized STEM resources and hands-on professional learning,” said Christina Steinbacher-Reed, director of professional learning and curriculum for BLaST IU 17.

Each of the modules was provided free to the teachers and was designed to motivate creativity and innovation in students. That, in turn, helps to prepare them to become valuable contributors in the world of work.

“When we hear that most of the 21st-century jobs have components of STEM, it must be one of our goals as educators to be actively engaged in the process of facilitating active-learning STEM experiences for our students,” said Paul R. Watson II, Penn College’s dean of academic services and college transitions. “Our partnership with BLaST IU 17 and NICERC continues to result in the exponential growth and reach of appropriate and relevant STEM content for the classroom.”

NICERC is an academic division of the Cyber Innovation Center. One of the primary missions of the Cyber Innovation Center is to build a sustainable knowledge-based workforce that can support the growing needs of government, industry and academia. NICERC focuses on curriculum design, professional development and collaboration in K-12 education.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.