TWIN FALLS — Karen Laitinen walked a dozen teachers through the steps Monday for how to fold an index card into a frog.
She placed her finished frog on a table. “If you push on his back side, he should jump,” she told them.
Teachers measured how high and far their frog jumped and recorded that information — plus observations — into a data table. Observations could include, for example, “does it already jump in a summersault?” Laitinen said.
The experiment was part of an “unidentified flying objects” session during an i-STEM summer institute, which runs this week at the College of Southern Idaho.
Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers are learning how to better incorporate science, technology, engineering and math lessons in their classrooms.
It’s one of six i-STEM institutes this month across Idaho, put on by groups including the Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho Department of Education.
About 90 teachers — the vast majority of whom are from south-central Idaho — are participating at CSI.
“I think they’ll be able to take home some teaching strategies to incorporate what they’ve learned at the institute,” said John Hughes, associate dean of student success at CSI. He’s helping to organize the conference.
There’s a focus on teachers implementing STEM across disciplines — not just in math and science classes, he said.
Participants in CSI’s institute could choose one of six topics to focus on: teaching science by design, materials science, using a program called BrickLAB, teaching nuclear science, unidentified flying objects and coding with Junior Botball Challenge.
Laitinen, a high school science teacher in Idaho Falls, is leading the “unidentified flying objects” workshop.
It’s designed to help teachers plan an aeronautics unit for their students. Each participating teacher is going home with a kit worth about $200.
It includes materials to replicate experiments in their classrooms. That’s helpful for teachers since school supply budgets are often limited.
“Because of the lack of funds for materials, that’s something really nice we’re able to offer,” Laitinen said, thanks to the institute’s sponsors.
Shirlee Taber, a first-grade teacher at Wendell Elementary School, was among the session participants.
Taber strives to incorporate science lessons into her classroom. “I try to squeeze in science once a week,” she said.
Here are six takeaways about how your child may learn about science next school year:
‘Immediately memorable’ lessons
A goal of the “unidentified flying objects” session is to help teachers “engage students at a much higher level than just sitting in their chairs learning theory,” Laitinen said.
The purpose is to have hands-on “immediately memorable” activities that connect with what students are learning, she said.
Learning about the engineering process
Many new jobs have a STEM component, Laitinen said, so she thinks it’s important for students to get into “engineering mode.”
That’s one of the purposes of the paper frog experiment. Students have to reflect and continually make improvements to their frog in order for it to jump better.
And they’re testing it out using an engineering-type process, she said.
Asking why and using technology
“Today’s kids I don’t think learn from taking notes and reading books,” said Brandi Milliron, a science teacher at West Minico Middle School in Paul.
Instead, using technology and incorporating opportunities for students to ask the “why” behind what they’re learning is meaningful, she added.
Plus, it’s key for students to do research and find information — and there’s so much technology that can be used for those educational purposes, Milliron said.
Specialty elective classes
Milliron recently received a grant from the Idaho STEM Action Center to buy a drone. West Minico Middle School is the only Magic Valley school to receive the grant.
The school plans to launch a new science elective class where students will build and configure drones. It will also incorporate virtual reality goggles.
Milliron hopes to eventually offer an advanced drone class.
Preparing for future careers
“Drones prepare kids for careers not even available yet,” Milliron said.
But right now, there are already many STEM jobs available and not enough qualified people to fill them.
Computer science/technology and engineering are college degrees that will be in the highest demand statewide by 2018, according to Idaho Business for Education.
Science as a classroom incentive
Lisa Ramsey, a third-grade teacher at Wendell Elementary School, uses science as a form of classroom management.
When her students have a successful day, they can add one body part to a classroom Mr. Potato Head.
By the time Thursday rolls around — the last day of the school week — students get to do a science experiment if Mr. Potato Head is fully put together.
Once, Ramsey had her students build a volcano and when the experiment failed, they were still excited and wanted to try again.