Program partnership is win-win in technological literacy

  Thursday, March 15, 2018 2:00 AM
  Science and Technology, News

Pittsburg, KS

Program partnership is win-win in technological literacy

Students from local elementary schools and students from Pittsburg State have been learning together, thanks to a minor in technological literacy. The degree program, started in Fall 2015, is a joint effort between the College of Education and the College of Technology. 

The goal? To better equip future teachers with the skills and strategies to implement Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities in their classrooms. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, workers in STEM occupations are growing at a high rate and are earning higher-than-average salaries.

A partnership with Pittsburg Community Schools is providing PSU students with elementary students on which to test out STEM activities. In turn, the elementary students are getting the chance to try things they don't ordinarily get the chance to at school.  

This week, for example, classes from Meadowlark Elementary fanned out in the Technology Learning Center inside the Kansas Technology Center to explore "Fairy Tale Problem Solving" through hands-on activities. They were guided by PSU students who asked them to predict, analyze, infer, measure, construct, and collaborate. 

In an activity dubbed "Three Blind Mice," third graders navigated their way through a maze built of Lego bricks using slips of paper with simple yet important directions: "Turn right." "Take three steps."

"It's actually an introduction to coding," explained Joseph Polhlopek, a senior majoring in Technology and Engineering Education. "This starts them at the basics." 

In an activity called "The Fork Floated Away with the Spoon," Colton Graham, a junior in Technology & Engineering Education, helped another group of youngsters build simple boats using their choice of everyday materials, like cardboard, tinfoil, construction paper, and toothpicks, and then test them in a "river" made of a section of guttering.  

"How much weight will it hold?" Graham asked his group as he guided them through the math portion of the activity, which involved adding marbles to each boat. 

In "London Bridge is Falling Down," third graders teamed up to use Rokenbok building pieces to construct a bridge that spanned the gap between two desks; the bridge had to support the weight of a toy remote control car. 

And, in "Humpty Dumpty," Jillian Sommerfeld, a senior in elementary education, facilitated an experiment in which her third-graders packaged up raw eggs in various materials and then conducted tests to see which ones were the most protective. 

"I enjoy working with them because it gives me the opportunity to learn techniques in teaching lessons before I get to my own classroom, or even before I begin student teaching," she said, "and it helps me realize what works and what doesn't work. I can see how to relate to students of different abilities." 

Tracy Rampy, an instructor in Teaching & Leadership, and Byron McKay, an assistant professor in Technology & Workforce Learning, roamed the room to observe and offer suggestions if needed. Also observing were Meadowlark Elementary classroom teachers, including Megan Buzard, who said she was learning, too. 

"It's a great opportunity to partnership with PSU to experience things we don't have at our school," she said. "We've implemented STEM Fridays, but some of this I haven't ever seen." 

Similar activities, based around a holiday theme, were done with classes of fourth graders from George Nettels Elementary School last December. And more are planned for the future. 

Rampy said the partnership with the Pittsburg Community School District has been a win-win-win. 

"It's helped our students, their students, and classroom teachers like Mrs. Buzard," she said. "There's a lot of power in us working together. There's a huge positive impact to both colleges partnering in order to have access to a total hands-on learning environment." 

Each day that groups of elementary students are on campus to have such experiences, McKay noted, university students are able to teach their lesson multiple times. 

"It gives them the opportunity to refine their lessons to get the best results," he said.  

In April and May, they'll head out to local elementary schools to teach similar hands-on activities. Next year, they'll be ready for internships and student teaching, Rampy said. 

"Science, engineering and technology often have to take a backseat in elementary classrooms. These learning experiences provide our elementary education majors with innovative ways to integrate these into the classroom," Rampy said. "And down the road, it will set our graduates apart from others when it comes time for a district to make a hire." 

Learn more about earning a minor in technological literacy at