GEMS for Teachers ignites a passion for science in Natick

By U.S. ArmyMay 1, 2014

GEMS for Teachers
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Jackie O'Brien, a sixth-grade teacher at the Up Academy Leonard, a tuition-free Lawrence public middle-school with students in grades six through eight, participates in a GEMS for Teachers experiment with a Near Peer Mentor at Natick Soldier Systems ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
GEMS for Teachers
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. -- During the April school vacation week, Massachusetts teachers were treated to a preview of the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, or GEMS, program at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

Teachers from a variety of school districts throughout MetroWest in grades six through nine participated in this program, which was created as a collaborative effort between the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

"As Lab Champion of the GEMS program, I was approached with the idea of offering GEMS to teachers so that they can have a better handle on what the students are experiencing through the summer program," said Army Capt. Carrie Quinn, a research physiologist at USARIEM, who also serves as the GEMS program director and co-creator of the GEMS for Teachers program. "So it was a natural fit for me to lead the GEMS for Teachers program."

GEMS for Teachers was created at NSSC and is the first program of its kind aimed at giving middle-school teachers the hands-on opportunity to engage in real-world science and to take those experiences back to their own classrooms. At the end of this unique week, the teachers received a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Kit that had starter pieces for a variety of the experiments they conducted throughout the week, so that they could then implement those experiments in their classrooms.

Quinn also asked the resource teacher and Near Peer Mentors who run the summer program to be a part of this session. In using this format, the teachers could get a real feel for the summer GEMS program for middle-school students, and the mentors gained invaluable lessons in leadership.

"The Near Peer Mentors are in charge of the curriculum and instruction for the summer GEMS program, so it was important that the teachers receive their instruction from the Mentors that are vital to our summer program," Quinn said.

"This way, the teachers could offer tips and guidance to the Mentors, and the Mentors could provide vital insight on what works and what doesn't for each of the lab experiments and what excites the students and encourages the most 'ah-ha' moments relative to other experiments," she added.

Joanna Graham, the STEM outreach coordinator for NSRDEC who co-created the GEMS for Teachers program with Quinn, agreed that the value of this program is in the reciprocity of learning.

"The model set up through the summer program, by design, has middle-school students instructed by high school students," Graham said. "This allows for the middle-school students to learn from Near Peer Mentors close in age to engage the students in the process. This also gives the Near Peer Mentors critical leadership and life skills equally as important as the technical STEM-related skills."

According to Graham, NSRDEC supports the GEMS summer program through tours of the testing facilities on post. Their goal for this session was to equip teachers with the same interactive STEM-related activities that the summer students receive so they can incorporate the experiments into their annual curriculum.

"This week was about offering the highly successful GEMS summer program to middle-school educators of the Commonwealth," Graham said. "There has been so much positive feedback from the middle-school students over the summer that we wanted to take that valuable information and turn it into a teacher training."

Teachers who attended this program said that it was not only entertaining, but it gave them ideas and tools to bring back to their classrooms.

"I really like what you are doing here," said Jackie O'Brien, a sixth-grade teacher at the Up Academy Leonard, a tuition-free Lawrence public middle-school with students in grades six through eight. "My goal as a teacher is to get kids interested in learning and create a passion for lifelong learning. I definitely want to try so many of the activities I learned here."

With all the excitement generated from this GEMS for Teachers session, Quinn is eager to capitalize on the program's popularity and begin the summer session of GEMS.

"Ideally, the GEMS for Teachers program will help us promote the GEMS summer program and expand our enrollment to areas outside of Natick," Quinn said. "This will diversify the student base that we are able to expose to the amazing science we engage in at NSSC."