Ronald Brandt, a science teacher at West Orange High School in West Orange, New Jersey, was awarded an Educator Conference Grant by NSHSS. The Conference Grant Award, launched in 2014, recognizes the contributions of outstanding high school teachers and counselors and enables them to gain new knowledge and skills by attending professional conferences. Mr. Brandt was a presenter at the American Society for Engineering Education conference held in Seattle, Washington, in June 2015, sharing his research on encouraging women to study STEM fields. We are pleased to share his review of the conference:
The ASEE annual conference is a well-attended meeting, including more than one thousand attendees with interests spanning from Kindergarten and primary grades through graduate level engineering education. The conference included workshops, technical paper presentations, a large Exhibit Hall with various equipment, institutional and publishing vendors, as well as daily Technical Poster Sessions on engineering education topics. There was also a one-day robotics competition consisting of high school age teams competing to complete pre-assigned tasks with their robots.
I began the conference by attending a full day, pre-meeting workshop focused on STEM education in K-12. The primary thrust of the workshops was to enable students to engage in STEM studies and engineering design through “hands on” problem solving. A strong emphasis was placed on team collaborations and brainstorming approaches to designing solutions for real-life problems. I participated in a variety of small team exercises during the day and noted the following, which will influence my own teaching practices:
1.There were better outcomes when individual thinking/brainstorming was required prior to a team coming together to exchange ideas. This encourages all students to become engaged in the activity before coming together and beginning team work. In prior practice, I normally instructed teams of students to start collaborating together, right at the start of an assignment. A downside to this normal practice is that it may result in some team members dominating a discussion with other students remaining passive.
2.I noted that a team’s solution set, after starting with individual think time as per above, resulted in a better mix of results than students could offer individually. In no case was an individual student able to come up with all of the possible solutions that the collective was able to assemble. This proves to the students that effective team collaboration is superior to individual contributions.
The technical paper presentations I attended during the full conference were beneficial with respect to alignment of our high school curriculum to the NGSS standards. The common core has an emphasis on integration of curriculum within STEM and across strands to include language and arts. The workshops I attended were especially focused on integration across STEM disciplines, with an emphasis on including problem solving methodologies based on engineering design practices. I heard presentations from various school districts across the country that have entered into partnerships with local universities. The universities bring college-level engineering design (grade appropriate) thinking into elementary, middle school and high school classes. Some universities sponsor professional development workshop training for K-12 teachers to collaborate across math and science instruction. In most presentations I attended, the university/school district partnerships are funded through NSF grants. In some other cases, there are corporate and local community sponsors. The success of these programs should encourage other Districts (and West Orange) to find similar partnerships.
The Exhibit Hall provided a good opportunity to interact with vendors. There were many displays focused on computer hardware and software systems to support curriculum initiatives. I was able to interact with our existing vendors (esp. Vernier and McGraw Hill) to learn of their latest offerings. I learned about Vernier’s lab probes’ compatibility with Chrome Books, in view of our District’s initiative with this platform. With McGraw Hill, I gained a better understanding of the online support modules that will be available in conjunction with the new chemistry textbooks that we will be pilot testing this coming school year. Many of the other exhibitors were offering robotics equipment and support services. This information has been forwarded to our pre-engineering department.
The personal highlight for me was the opportunity to present my own research paper on attracting more high school women to consider STEM undergraduate studies. The presentation was well-received and fit well with other presentations focused on attracting minority students into STEM, and retaining them once they are in college.
I appreciate West Orange Public Schools and the NSHSS Conference Grant’s support of my attendance to this valuable conference. I will be sharing my experiences and many supporting documents within my own department, as well as with the pre-engineering group.