SMU STEM Academy teaches DISD teachers to engage kids with hands-on science

At an SMU summer program, middle-school teachers shot off rockets, kayaked the Trinity River and collected data on animals at the Dallas Zoo to help make STEM classes more meaningful for their students.

DALLAS (SMU) – At an SMU summer program, Dallas ISD middle-school teachers shot off rockets, kayaked the Trinity River and collected data on animals at the Dallas Zoo to learn new ways to engage their students in science.

Teachers from six middle schools were the first to take part in the STEM Academy at SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Supported by the Texas Instruments Foundation and O’Donnell Foundation, the goal of the new program is to increase the numbers of students who study and pursue careers in math and science-related fields.

Science teachers wield considerable influence on students' interests and decisions, says SMU STEM education expert Leanne Ketterlin-Geller, who leads the academy and speaks from experience as a former high school science teacher. Giving middle-school teachers tools to catch the imagination of their students is critical, she says, as middle school is the time when students develop self-perception of their science and math skills.

From Dallas Innovates

STEM-Model Rockets

SMU STEM Academy Launches DISD Teachers to New Heights


In an effort to increase students’ interest and success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics coursework, Southern Methodist University has collaborated with DISD, the Texas Instruments Foundation, and the O’Donnell Foundation to provide a group of teachers hands-on instruction for creating interactive and engaging content for their classrooms.

As part of the academy, teachers have learned how to turn an informal learning space such as the Dallas Zoo into an engaging teaching opportunity and kayaked the Trinity River using scientific tools along the way to discover the habitat and wildlife. Last week, STEM academy participants gathered outside their classroom on SMU’s campus to test rockets they built themselves in a project-based learning activity.

SMU professors and mentors provided teachers with instruction and advice to construct rockets with varied payloads, and launched them to see how they reacted differently. 

“Rocketry is one of those nice things that is fun to do and watch, and it’s exciting,” SMU professor Paul Krueger said. “One of the reasons we like it is because it’s a good way to connect the interesting physics related to motion that students are learning in middle school and something that’s practical, something that actually works.” 

Teachers worked collaboratively within their school groups to build the rocket. Seagoville Middle School teacher Shannon Wright saw the project as a great tool for developing new and engaging content.

Read the full story.

From KERA Public Radio

STEM-Trinity River

From Kayaks On The Trinity, Teachers Learn About Human Impact On North Texas Nature


Summer school's gliding along in North Texas, but students aren’t the only ones in session. Southern Methodist University's STEM Academy is for science teachers.

For one recent lesson, they left dry land behind to kayak the Trinity River that wanders through the Great Trinity Forest.

On one recent summer morning, it’s still relatively cool and overcast. Eight kayaks launch down the river from the Trinity's infamous standing wave. The multi-million-dollar man-made rapids — deemed too dangerous — will soon be dismantled.

At this placid point, everyone gets safely on the water.

Lee Renshaw is the river guide with the nearby Trinity River Audubon Center.

"While we are out there today, be on lookout. This time of day, there's going to be a lot of birds on the river today, and I will point them out when we see them," he says.

The kayakers start watching for birds as they glide past downed trees that look like they're decorated for Christmas with dirty plastic bags as ornaments. We pass countless old tires and floating junk. It's shocking.

Read the full story and listen to the broadcast.


From NBC 5 News

Teachers Kayak the Trinity River for Hands-On Learning

By Kris Gutierrez and Cody Lillich

A group of Dallas middle school teachers are still hard at work this summer, getting firsthand knowledge of science to bring back to their classes next year.

The teachers are a part of SMU's program on Research in Mathematics Education and enhancing Dallas ISD's education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Thursday, the middle school teachers jumped in kayaks at the Trinity River Audubon Center to identify wildlife and collect organisms from nearby ponds.

"We saw fish and animals in the water," said Stephanie Burks, a science teacher at Ann Richards Middle School. "We saw oxidation, we saw runoff, we saw a lot of things we tie in to our everyday school life."

The program at SMU focuses on middle school educators to help connect math and science to young minds.

Read or watch the full story.