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Teachers get help in STEM instruction at UNG conference
Event puts focus on new methods to teach science, math
Megan Smith, a third-grade teacher for Buford City Schools, Ana Lopera, second-grade teacher for Gainesville City Schools, and Amanda West, a fifth-grade teacher at Settles Bridge Elementary School in Forsyth County, work together Saturday during a session at the Georgia Science Teachers Association District II ELIPSE Conference at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus. - photo by ELISE PERKINS

Educators from around North Georgia met Saturday for the Georgia Science Teachers Association District II ELIPSE (Experiential Learning and Inquiry for Physical Science Educators) Conference held on the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus.

Together UNG, Brenau University, Georgia State University, the Physics Teacher Education Coalition and the Georgia Science Teachers Association District II collaborated to host the free event that offered educators new ways of bringing interactive activities into the classroom.

The STEM programs are focused on developing curriculums in schools that encourage growth in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics academic fields.

“There is this thirst for learning in our area,” said JB Sharma, the assistant department head at UNG. “It’s just that teachers need some place they don’t have to stay overnight when they go there.”

With more events that cater to STEM programing, Sharma believes that the untapped potential in the area can be used to help the student success in STEM in the area.

“We want to create this community of educators so that we can lean on each other, we all need each other and the demands of excellence are the same for s elementary school teacher, for a middle school, high school, college professor,” said Sharma. “If you want excellence you’ll be working very hard at it no matter what level you’re at, and there will be challenges.”

During the short “Lightning Presentation: The Human Circuit” session, Jane Woodall of Gainesville Middle School highlighted the impact of connecting hands-on experiments with subject content.

“The idea of these participation kind of activities is all about getting the kids involved. Yes there’s vocabulary, yeah there’s content that they need to know,” Woodall said. “But they need to know what it means to them. How can they see that outside of the classroom and why are they learning this? Giving them something tangible to hold. By holding and moving it they can see, oh the flow, this is what you mean.”

Each session offered new ideas for student-involved activities, such as the flow of electrons through a circuit, demonstrated with balloons, that can be tailored to a specific grade level.

Frank Lock, a teacher in residence in the physics and astronomy department at Georgia State University, demonstrated activities that required hands-on involvement to complete experiments.

“It’s giving them some ideas about things they can use in their classroom,” Lock said. “One of the things that I always tell people when I’m doing a workshop or a presentation is they don’t have to implement it just the way it is, they should do what they’re comfortable with and present it in such a way it’s going to work for them. Adapt it to what they’re comfortable doing.”

With the estimated 55 educators in attendance, April Nelms, who works in the College of Education at UNG, is hopeful that the event will have a positive impact on STEM engagement in the community and improve STEM education in the region.

”The greater North Georgia area has so much industry and we have a chance to prepare our students and actually make this an opportunity for one of our focuses at the university,” Nelms said. “We are making a connection with our community around us bringing in educators who will then in turn bring in K-12 students who eventually come to our universities, and we can get them through school and hopefully into STEM careers and feed this really growing technological industry that we have here.”

Many of the educators in attendance came from around the region, including Gwinnett, Dawson and Forsyth counties. Like Hugh McKinney, who works at the Da Vinci Academy, they are always searching for new methods to teach students.

“I’m always looking for good hands-on activities and technological things that the kids love to do, just to engage them more and get them more excited about science,” said McKinney. “(The event) helps keep up to date with the kids because they are so technologically advanced themselves.”

Not all students are as eager to learn about the STEM program according to Sheri Goss, who teaches all of the high school science classes at Lanier Charter Career Academy in Hall County.

“I teach at an alternative school, so there’s a lack of interest, so just getting them interested (is difficult),” said Goss. “This makes it personal.”

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