Dr. Eran S. Kilpatrick
Associate Professor of Biology
University of South Carolina Salkehatchie
From July 25 – 29, over 50 math and science teachers from the Colleton County School District met with teacher leaders, education specialists, and college professors at USC Salkhatchie. The weeklong event constituted the summer institute phase of a multi-year Math and Science Partnership grant awarded to the school district and coordinated by Patti Drawdy, the transformational STEM coach/math and science facilitator. The summer institute was designed to expand STEM teaching techniques by developing creative ways for teachers to provide hands-on projects for students to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Dorothy (Dot) Moss, an education specialist from Clemson University, initiated the first day of the institute and guided the teachers through a project where teams built their own model “egg” cars. The goal was to design a paper car with safety features that kept the egg from cracking as it traveled down a track and slid into a simulated wall. Each team took their car from design to construction and then through several test runs to observe and apply Newton’s First Law of Motion. Not only was the project fun, but it served as an example for what teachers can do in their classroom to engage students in STEM related topics.
Participants spent the first afternoon in a math or science working group with teacher leaders and USC Salkehatchie professors. Brandi Boseman, Jennifer Shipp, and Teresa Blankenship from Colleton County High School and Laura Reasonover from Colleton County Middle School composed the teacher leader team. USC Salkehatchie professors, Dr. Eran Kilpatrick (biology) and Dr. Wei-Kai Lai (mathematics), served as the Institute of Higher Education partners. Teachers experienced a rich task relevant to their discipline and practiced the concept of vertical articulation. Rich tasks and vertical articulation may seem complicated, but a rich task is one that incorporates active learning, collaboration, engaging questions, and allows students to broaden skills and think critically. Vertical articulation involves recognizing how key education standards are developed and built upon from the elementary through high school grades.
Teachers spent a large portion of the week working in small groups to develop their own rich tasks. In all, there were 12 working groups developing separate tasks for topics related to molarity, homeostasis, models of decimals, and models of polynomials. Each group developed creative ways to incorporate hands-on activities to teach the science and math concepts in their classrooms. All projects were given a trial run to determine how their rich task would best be implemented in the classroom and shared with their peers. The level of creativity was amazing. Sorting candy to simulate the movement of cellular substances, making lemon soda to learn about chemical solutions, and using fish-shaped crackers to visualize how fish populations change in a lake represents only a portion of the engaging teaching methods developed.
To provide a break from rich task development, the teachers spent Wednesday and Thursday afternoon exploring science or math phenomena with Dr. Kilpatrick or Dr. Lai. Dr. Kilpatrick guided the teachers through an experiment to determine if they were healthy carriers for Staphylococcus aureus, the bacterium also known as “Staph”. During this experiment, each teacher worked with their own bacterial culture, one they started at the beginning of the week by collecting bacteria from their nose with a cotton swab. Everyone had a chance to prepare a microscope slide with their bacteria, stain the bacterial cells, and view the stained cells using a compound light microscope. The experiment ended with each teacher performing a specific chemical test on their nasal culture to determine if it was Staph. The teachers really enjoyed exploring this topic, using the lab technology, and learning more about their own normal flora. Dr. Lai led the teachers through a hands-on activity to find the weights of individual items in mystery bags using the Axiom of Equality. Teachers also created chemical compounds using marshmallows and mathematically verified the Law of Conservation of Mass as an interdisciplinary application in chemistry.
Without a doubt, everyone participating in the summer institute viewed it as a learning experience. Science and math teachers, beginners and veterans alike, gained a new teaching dimension for their classroom. The Math and Science Partnership Summer Institute was a venue for innovation, one that bridged higher education with our local schools, and provided a path for continued teaching success in our school district.