September 2012 Issue
September 06, 2012

Teachers expand skills to improve high tech learning

Author: Leslie Duncan Fottrell
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: Kevin Tucker, left, a member of the Canisteo-Greenwood Teachers Association,and Brekke Holub, a member of the Gilbertsville-Mount Upton TA, collaborate on their group presentation.

Teachers wearing sporty safety goggles to protect their eyes entered the lab cautiously. "This is where we break things," said Jamie Westbrook, senior research scientist at the Corning facility in Painted Post.

Breaking things is an important step to create new products and to improve existing ones manufactured by Corning, a world leader in specialty glass and ceramics products.

Westbrook passed around a variety of glass and ceramic materials for the teachers to handle in this first stop of the plant tour.

"Problem-solving skills and the ability to figure out root cause," he said, are important qualities students need to succeed in the high-tech industry.

The importance of critical thinking and the ability to work in a team environment resonated throughout this SEMI High Tech U program, a two-day summer immersion experience that gave 36 educators from around the state — and from a variety of teaching disciplines — the tools needed to prepare middle and high school students for a high-tech future.

The program featured hands-on activities in electronics, nanotechnology and renewable energy, and a curriculum integration component for each activity.

Queensbury High School biology teacher Jessica Donnelly called the modules "very helpful" and plans to use everything she learned when she takes on a new course. "I'm teaching careers in STEM this year and I wanted the opportunity to prepare
myself," Donnelly said.

The program's teamwork component is consistent with the high-tech work environment. According to Shaker High School math teacher Mark Kaercher, a 2008 SEMI High Tech U graduate who now facilitates the program, an important strategy is the continual realignment of teams, giving participants the opportunity to work with everyone.

Jim Cunningham, principal consultant at AM&T, a manufacturing consulting and training firm, led participants in a renewable energy exercise using solar panels. He explained that companies today seek people who work well in cross-functional teams.

Collaboration is an important life skill, said Donnelly. "It is important for students to understand you don't have to be friends, but you do need to be collaborative and productive, and get the job done."

Cunningham gave the six teams of educators just a half hour to scan a problem, research solar energy driven solutions, decide on the strongest plan of action and present it as a group. Participants dove into the activity — meeting, brainstorming, dividing tasks, regrouping and presenting. One group proposed using solar-powered laptop computers and hand-held devices to enable local and national communication in emergency situations, using the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a backdrop.

Jesse Harper, a member of the Arkport Faculty Association, teaches science at Arkport Central School in the Southern Tier. He called the program a great example of how to get "students involved in more of a problem-solving, inquiry-based, experiential learning, rather than the lecture and repeat, lecture and test."

"SEMI High Tech U teacher edition gives NYSUT members new ways to build critical thinking and collaborative problem skills for their students," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, "while ensuring each lesson is aligned with New York state learning standards in math, science or technology."

SEMI High Tech U teacher edition was sponsored by NYSUT, SEMI and Corning. Another SEMI High Tech U teacher edition session was held in Oneida County along with a SEMI High Tech U four-day summer camp experience for about 40 high school students throughout the Capital Region.

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