A New Way to Learn

The Dayton STEM Center employs innovative lessons to prepare students for a rapidly changing world

By Scott Unger

As rapidly evolving technology paints an uncertain picture of future careers, Dayton educators specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects are being taught new strategies and curriculums focused on giving students life skills to thrive instead of specific knowledge.

As part of the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, the Dayton Regional STEM Center is educating teachers on the best practices in STEM education, emphasizing problem-based learning techniques such as critical thinking, deep knowledge, cross-curricular connections, technology integration, collaboration skills and real-world connections.

“In order for kids to be prepared for jobs that don’t even exist yet we are preparing kids more for a skill set of how they can be problem-solvers and how they can adapt to changes and sitting in a seat and receiving information isn’t always the best way to develop those skills,” says Dayton Regional STEM Center Director Elizabeth Wolfe-Eberly.

The center offers development sessions and conferences for teachers and educators and the hallmark program is the STEM Fellows, a 15-session professional development course, says Wolfe-Eberly.

Teams of teachers from multidisciplinary areas from elementary through high school levels work collaboratively with STEM industry professionals and university professors to create unique STEM units that are piloted in classrooms and then published on the STEM center website for other educators to implement.

“They become curriculum writers themselves so it’s sort of a multifaceted experience for the teachers,” Wolfe-Eberly says. “They are pushed out of their comfort zone because they are asked to engage in engineering design challenges very much like we would ask their students to do in a class.”

Teachers are divided into groups based on education level and pairing them with industry professionals gives the lesson planning real-world insight into the knowledge they are passing on to students.

“They bring the perspective of what it’s like to be practicing in the STEM industry,” Wolfe-Eberly says of the volunteers. “As the teachers come up with ideas those volunteers are there to say here’s how it really works in our field.”

While the published lesson plans are the end result of the program, the course’s main goal is to change the way teachers interact with their classrooms to focus on problem solving, collaboration and connections to other STEM fields.

“We really focus on changing the way that the teachers teach and the lessons we have available are really a byproduct of that,” Wolfe-Eberly says.  

While problem-based learning skills are critical for STEM students, the lessons can be applied to any subject.

“(Problem-based learning) basically develops skills that we know are going to be valuable for them whatever STEM or other careers are available for them in the future,” she says.

Science Saturdays
In an effort to get the next generation of STEM learners excited about science, the center hosts monthly Science Saturdays, a one-hour free program for children and families to explore science concepts.

The sessions are conducted at the Engineers Club of Dayton and feature guest speakers from various fields teaching the science behind subjects that children are naturally interested in such as dinosaurs, movies and space.

The program is a revival of inventor Charles Kettering’s original Science Saturdays, which was also conducted at the Engineers Club of Dayton.

The 2018 schedule concludes Dec. 8 with a show focusing on the science of music, following other sessions with titles like Pollution Solutions and Extreme Ecosystems.

“The goal is always to put on a show that’s going to be topically interesting to the students,” Wolfe-Eberly says. “To see where the science is and get excited about it.”

The shows emphasize audience participation and are filled with energy in order to bring the science to life for the children. Although the program is designed for students from second to sixth grade, all ages are welcome to attend.