NATICK, Mass. (Sept. 6, 2012) -- Teachers became students again for a few days this summer as they raced and recorded data for Lego robots, studied dimensions of golf balls and designed their own simulations, and completed other training activities at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center through "Materials World Modules" training.

Teachers were trained at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, Aug. 14-16, by the National Center for Advancement of STEM Education, or nCASE. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There were two Materials World Modules, or MWM, training courses, Math with Robotics 2 and Sports Materials modules. MWM offer hands-on learning experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for middle and high school students.

"We are about attracting students and exciting students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM," said Stephen Priselac, nCASE executive director. "I don't look at STEM as pipelines never to be integrated. Most schools function that way. Science is not science for science's sake. Technology, math and engineering are not separate entities; in many ways they are all tied together."

In all nCASE classrooms, the keys to the lessons are two simple concepts: inquiry and design. Priselac explained that an inquiry must be done and afterwards a student may take what has been learned and apply it to some sort of designing mechanism.

"We suggest that this should be a 50/50 percent of the classroom," said Priselac. "Fifty percent of the time, you should be doing the inquiry part of it, and the last 50 percent, you should be dealing with the design part of it."

Teachers were able to go through material together and gain insight and ideas from one another, besides having the program leaders there for support.

"Engineering, innovation and technology have always been a large part of who the United States was as a country. I would love if my students could be a part of that," said Joshua Beagan, a Gaudet Middle School teacher.

The Math with Robotics 2 course used robotics to make math more exciting, while still providing practical application and reinforcement of those skills the children are learning in their classes. The computer program generates graphs based on the robots' movements; after the robot completes a certain task, students are able to see those results on the computer. This training allowed the students (teachers) to explore and discover how math worked.

Teachers in the Math/Robotics course learned about the relationships between gear ratio and distance traveled, diameter of the wheel and distance traveled, motor power, speed and distance traveled. Also, by way of robotics, teachers now have a new way of teaching their own students different mathematical concepts, such as absolute value functions, linear and angular speed, linear and angular velocity, instantaneous rate of change, and other functions.

"I learned that math did not need to be taught in isolation," Beagan said. "I learned it that way and, looking back, feel that this was not the very best way to reinforce math. It needs to be taught in the classroom, but I feel that the modules give practical applications of the math being learned in the classroom."

In the Sports Materials with Mathematics Focus class, groups of teachers measured and completed different calculations for two different sports balls. The balls were dropped at heights of 100 meters and 200 meters, and then the students measured how high they bounced by calculating the coefficient of restitution. They also made a graph comparing the COR for all of the balls each group used.

"I think the activities provided at this training inspire teachers and will excite students," said Jessica Parsons, a Milton High School teacher. "I really enjoyed using audacity to collect data. I have not used any sound data before."

Balls were bounced on different types of surfaces to determine the effects on the balls' bounce height; balls were rolled down ramps and measurements of the distances they traveled were made on surfaces like artificial turf, foam, and indoor tiling. The groups also spent time designing courses.

"We had to design a golf ball that could, when released, bounce appropriately and roll appropriately to get through the golf hole," said Tara Tetreaultt, a Foxborough school teacher. "Think miniature golf; ours had ramps and different turfs and mini trampolines to bounce on. Each group had to try to modify the plastic wiffle golf ball to make it get through the other groups' creations. It was extremely fun."

Stu Schultz, an nCASE training leader, conducted a particular lesson for the Sports course all about the "thrill of discovery."

"The joy of discovery is the experience we are looking for," said Schultz, after each teacher in his class had discovered the rule. Yet, some of the teachers were incorrect, initially. Schultz explained how failure is something that a student should learn from, how some of the teachers made a hypothesis that was wrong, but they still learned something from it and were ultimately successful.

"Instead of telling students information, set it up so they can discover it," Schultz said. "It will be much more meaningful, and they'll remember it longer. They'll have more fun in their class, they'll like your class, they'll like you, and all kinds of good things will come of it."

Teachers fill out reviews of the courses, and the teachers at NSRDEC agreed that they learned a great deal and appreciated the opportunity to take the materials and lessons they learned from the nCASE training into their own classrooms.

Page last updated Thu September 6th, 2012 at 08:00