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MS STEM professionals gather to enhance teaching practices

STEM teachers and professors from a cross the state met this past week to discover new ways to strengthen their teaching of the sciences.

The Mississippi, STEM education symposium was held at Belhaven University in Jackson and STEM educators from each of Mississippi’s top universities were present, along with various grade school and high school teachers.

The event focused on giving teachers helpful practices and creative ideas to get students excited about science.

“If you ask a child in grade school what their favorite subject is, a lot of times they will tell you science,” said Dr. Garon Smith, professor at the University of Montana. “If you ask a student at the end of middle school years, science has disappeared. There’s a leak in the pipeline that happens somewhere between grade school and high school. So, I like to spend a lot of effort in getting kids excited about the science before they leak out of the pipeline.”

Smith is a self-proclaimed wizard and entertained adults and children alike in a wizard show that showcased STEM concepts.

“The wizard program is not entertainment alone,” said Smith. “It is a very cleverly designed program that teaches about the process of science and engages the audience into practicing some things that scientists actually do.”

Smith first became interested in science and wizardry at 10 years old when he received a chemistry set for Christmas.

He said that he encourages teachers to break out of the lecture mode as often as possible because individuals have a higher retention rate for the material if they become personally engaged with the lecture.

Dr. Reid Bishop, Professor and Chairman of chemistry at Belhaven University.

“This is an opportunity to bring together professionals from all across the country to give a program to describe how they have worked to enhance STEM methods,” said Dr. Reid Bishop, Professor and Chairman of Chemistry at Belhaven University. “The idea is to improve the community and improve science teaching.”

Bishop added that it is crucial to get students involved in STEM classes at a young age because their interest drastically decreases if they do not have fun in the beginning.

He said the thing he most commonly hears from his students who are majoring in chemistry at Belhaven is that they got involved in science at a young age and had a wonderful teacher at some point in their education who encouraged them and broke down the concepts for them to understand at their level.

“Most learning in kids comes museums and zoo’s and those are what we call informal science education programs,” said Bishop. “The goal is to connect informal science educators with formal science educators in the context of a societal issue like conservation, public health, energy, trash, etc.”

Dr. Cathy Middlecamp, a chemist and Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison teaches a number of environmental science courses at UW and was a guest speaker at the event. She said that teachers need to have a balanced curriculum when they teach their students.

“Chemists think very deeply about the content that they cover and how they are going to cover it all, and they worry about it because if the students don’t have the content covered, then they are worried that they won’t be prepared for what they are going to be doing next,” said Middlecamp. “At the same time I say that as teachers our job isn’t to cover the content, but instead to uncover it. Meaning, that covering doesn’t mean learning and if it’s not something people are interested in, the odds are that they are either not going to like it, not going to do it, or they are not going to invest their time into it. So, if there were a pendulum that swung between content and context I think that teachers have pegged the needle over on the content side, but it’s important to bring it back to the middle and have a balance between content and context.”

Video courtesy of Belhaven University:

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