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NMSU summer science workshops provide support for area teachers

Bringing science to life for students isn't always an easy task for teachers, which is why New Mexico State University held two events in June designed to help teachers accomplish exactly this.

Loma Heights Elementary School fifth-grade teachers Lesli Gomez and Jeremy Sanchez dissect owl pellets during a content area session of the New Mexico State University Scientifically Connected Communities Summer Institute. (Courtesy photo)

The Scientifically Connected Communities program offered a summer institute June 14-17. This year's theme was "Our Changing World," a continuation of the sustainability theme from last year. The inquiry-based activities in each session tied into the theme.

For half of each day, teachers worked in grade-level groups, which provided opportunities to learn from master teachers how to integrate science, mathematics and literacy while meeting standards and benchmarks. The other half of the day was spent learning specific science content and ways to integrate it into the classroom. During these sessions, teachers were provided with materials and hands-on experiments they could use in their classrooms. Local and national science educational professionals, horticulturalists, astronomers and environmental specialists facilitated.

"Why not teach something students like? Science can't be taught without subjects like math; integrating it allows students to apply what they learned, making it more meaningful," said Susan Brown, College of Education director of STEM Outreach for the Institute for Excellence in Math and Science Education.

SC2 started with 24 teachers two years ago, but has grown to nearly 200 teachers this year. In addition to the summer institute, the program has field specialists who offer classroom support during the school year, and teachers have the opportunity to participate in other professional development workshops throughout the year.

SC2 teachers also participated in the Supercomputing Challenge and Project Growing Up Thinking Scientifically Summer Roundup, held the week after the institute. The Roundup served
to advance teachers' knowledge, understanding and skills in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The students and teachers learned both the StarLogoTNG, for Project GUTS teams, and the NetLogo, for the Supercomputing Challenge, computer modeling programs. They used modeling to understand how it is used by scientists and others in cutting-edge research. Participating teachers also learned how to start a Project GUTS club and sponsor a Supercomputing Challenge team. By bringing students and teachers together, they were able to support and help each other during the workshop, and can continue to do so throughout the school year.

High school teams from across the state participate in the year-long Supercomputing Challenge. Students work in teams to research a problem they need to gather data for, create computer models to make a visualization of the data and then write a report of their findings. Project GUTS is a summer and after-school science, technology, engineering and math program for middle school students in New Mexico.

For those interested in participating in next year's SC2 institute, visit http://education.nmsu.edu/sc2/, or contact Brown at 575-646-1397. For more information about Project GUTS and the Supercomputing Challenge, contact Betsy Frederick at 505-220-5050.