A group of educators huddled together as they crafted frameworks of drinking straws, covered with aluminum foil and sporting blazing birthday candles on top.
In short order, the candles generated enough heat to fill plastic bags with hot air — in some cases enough to lift the impromptu balloons several feet above the floor of the College of Southern Idaho’s Eldon Evans Expo Center. For the educators, the science lesson Tuesday was part of the first Idaho Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Institute.
Known as i-STEM, the statewide effort involves government agencies, business and industry partners that work together to support and enhance science, technology, engineering and math in education. The partners are diverse and varied: CSI, NASA, the Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho State Department of Education are all involved.
Preliminary estimates show that 122 educators are attending the workshop that wraps up Thursday at CSI, with another 110 teachers attending a similar workshop at North Idaho College. With funding from a grant and partners, the workshops are free for teachers.
Key components of the program include an integrated approach that shows how the disciplines relate to other subjects, said Anne Seifert, i-STEM executive director and STEM coordinator for the INL.
And after the four-day institute ends, its lessons will continue to spread. CSI has a room set aside on campus to store lesson kits and supplies available to teachers.
Zelma Woodward, a sixth-grade teacher at West Minico Middle School in Paul, and Tina Williams, a seventh-grade teacher at the same school, both stressed the value of hands-on learning for their students.
“When we’re doing hands-on, we don’t fall asleep, and when we’re doing hands-on, our kids don’t fall asleep,” Woodward said.
Added Williams: “Some kids have to see it, feel it or hear it. Some kids have to do all three.”
For the two educators and others in their workshop, putting the candles beneath plastic bags illustrated the principle of how hot air rises, creating motion that leads to wind in the atmosphere.
In another workshop, teachers used Legos to build potential lesson plans. Ralph Peterson, a ninth-grade teacher from North Gem Jr./Sr. High School in Bancroft, and three other teachers constructed an aqueduct from the Legos, a structure that could potentially teach students about water flow integrated with the history of how the ancient water system worked.
“I’m still a kid at heart,” Peterson said.
Ben Botkin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 735-3238.