DAHLGREN, Va. – Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) held its first annual NSWCDD STEM Workshop for Educators at the University of Mary Washington Dahlgren campus, July 30.
Navy scientists and engineers joined university professors to share best practices and ideas for project based learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with elementary, middle, and high school educators at the workshop.
In all, 53 middle and high school teachers and administrators from Virginia’s Caroline, Culpeper, King George, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland counties in addition to Dahlgren and Fredericksburg, Va., schools networked and engaged in roundtable discussions.
The forum also featured briefings and demonstrations while the educators participated in hands-on activities that they could pass on to other teachers and students at their respective schools. The activities included, “Straw Rockets and Mini-Railgun”, “Ozobots and Littlebits Engineering”, and “EV3 LEGO Robotics”.
Moreover, NSWCDD and George Mason University STEM professionals briefed educators on the process of hands-on interaction with students to improve critical thinking skills. Likewise, the teachers shared their stories and methods for successful implementation of project based learning in STEM classes and programs.
“Education is not so much about filling the bucket as lighting the fire,” said Dr. Daniel Wallace, senior NSWCDD human factors engineer, while challenging educators to be open to the prospect of finding new interactive teaching techniques.
Chris Hodge, NSWCDD STEM Program Director, told the audience that they have an additional tool to educate their students – namely the STEM scientist and engineer mentors at NSWCDD.
“We are here as a resource for you,” said Hodge. “We need your feedback so that we can more effectively enable and engage educators.”
Briefings and discussion with elementary and middle school educators focused on project-based learning for STEM courses in life science and biology, earth science, and mathematics in addition to physics and chemistry.
High school educators were briefed on project-based learning, best practices, and ideas impacting STEM courses in psychology and computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics.
“It’s also important to let students know that a lot of the things we know are not the gospel,” said Wallace. “Science is not about being right all the time but that is how we make progress. We are constantly challenging those assumptions. There is no such thing as an experiment that does not work, as long as you execute it properly. If it gives you results that you did not expect, that is exciting. Counterintuitive results are acceptable to kids.”
Wallace gave several examples of how classroom experiments can improve a student’s learning process. Using a soda bottle and tin foil, he explained why the foil rises and falls inside the bottle. According to Wallace, the change of density allows the foil rise or fall. While water does not compress, the air bubbles trapped inside the foil will cause the foil to rise or fall with changes in pressure.
“Make sure they understand their situation and articulate their hypothesis, then ask them to explain as much as they can,” said Wallace. “The more they learn on their own, the better. This will more likely give your students those light bulb experiences. Remember, take chances, make mistakes and have fun.”