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Record Number of Teachers Sign Up for UA STEM Program

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High school teachers grapple with NeuroBytes, which they can use to teach their students about neural pathways.

Record Number of Teachers Sign Up for UA STEM Program

July 21, 2016
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In summer workshops, high school math and science teachers learn new ways to teach their students about robotics, solar energy, water sustainability and the brain.

Arizona high school teachers were at the University of Arizona and Omni Tucson National Resort from July 11 to 14 learning about educational projects in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, that they can take back to their own classrooms.

At the annual summer workshops for ENGR 102 High School, 31 teachers built solar ovens and solar trackers, catapults and quadcopters, load-bearing barges and simulated networks of brain cells. ENGR 102 HS is an adapted version of the introductory course required for first-year UA College of Engineering students. The program introduces high school students, mostly seniors, to engineering and can give them a head start on their UA Engineering degree. Students who complete the course, taught at their high schools by their teachers, may earn three units of University credit at a discounted tuition rate of $495.

Really Good Math, Science and Engineering

Nine of this year’s 38 ENGR 102 HS instructors will be teaching it for the first time.

“Your students will learn about some of the biggest challenges facing humanity, like how to ensure availability of clean drinking water, and how engineers are going to help solve them,” Jim Clark, a Hamilton High School teacher and pioneer of the program, told them. “Your students will be doing really good math, really good science and really good engineering. And they will really be creating something!”

From 21 students in one Arizona school in 2008, the program has enrolled more than 1,800 students from 37 high schools, including one in California. Of the approximately 600 students expected to take the course in 2016-2017, about half will take it for College credit, said Jill Rogers, ENGR 102 HS assistant director at the UA.

The program was made possible through UA College of Engineering partnerships with Science Foundation Arizona, Salt River Project, Intel Foundation, Texas Instruments, John Deere and Raytheon and receives ongoing support from the Arizona Department of Education and the Marshall Foundation that helps cover the cost of teacher training, classroom equipment and materials.

The American Society for Engineering Education presented its Best Practices in K-12 and University Partnerships Award to ENGR 102 HS in 2014, and several of the program’s participating teachers have received regional teaching awards.

3-D Printing, Arduinos, NeuroBytes and Aqualibrium

Palo Verde High Magnet School’s AnnMarie Condes, whom Rogers introduced as “a treasure to our program,” shared stories from over 20 years of teaching. She told how one group of students took reverse engineering a bit far.

“They completely dismantled my 3-D printer!” she said. “They documented everything as they took it apart then went to a hardware store with a detailed list of everything they needed to build their own. It caused a mess in the classroom, and it took them nearly a year. But when the lights came on, and the motors started moving, they were elated. Their printer worked great! So did mine, after they put it back together.”

Teachers gained experience working with arduinos -- low-cost, open-source and versatile minicomputers used in college-level science and engineering education -- and learned about two new educational projects barely off the shelf.

Neuroscientist Joe Burdo, co-founder of Massachusetts-based startup NeuroTinker, presented his invention NeuroBytes, electronic neuron simulator kits designed to help students understand how the brain works. Teachers built a model of four neurons controlling the patellar, or knee-jerk, reflex.

Chris Horstman, a UA doctoral student in civil engineering, demonstrated Aqualibrium Arizona, adapted from an educational program created in 2012 in South Africa, to teach students concepts in water conservation and engineering and about their local water supplies.

Working with the UA department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics and a NASA Space Grant fellowship, he has presented the project at local elementary and middle schools and established Aqualibrium Arizona as a nonprofit. He and ENGR 102 HS teacher Glenn Linton have run it as a pilot project at Ironwood Ridge High School in Oro Valley for the past three years, and Horstman is working to expand it to other Arizona schools.

On a grid of 16 points that depicts their community’s water cycle, students design a representation of the local water distribution system with pipes of different sizes that distribute water equally to three reservoirs -- for residential, agricultural and environmental use.

“I built this in my living room,” said Horstman of the setup, containing a small table, buckets, pipettes and valves. “It looks simple but requires students to learn complex concepts and skills. The three buckets can be positioned in more than 3,000 combinations, with potentially 280 billion possible configurations for positioning the pipes.”