Strengthening student learning in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is a challenge for teachers who don’t have the background or the technology at hand to engage learners.
Oregon State University Extension’s Renewable Energy Education Program uses twin tactics to help: It mentors teachers in a key subject area, and it offers curriculum and kits packed with the kind of hands-on experiments it takes to light a spark in the energy innovators of the future.
The free program trains educators in Clackamas County to teach scientific inquiry, problem-solving and critical thinking skills through experiments and activities centered around energy, electricity and conservation. OSU Extension mentors teachers while delivering a 14-hour hands-on energy program.
“In a lot of classrooms, teaching means reading out of a textbook and then reiterating information back to the teacher,” says Janet Nagele, an OSU Extension 4-H youth development educator. “Here, they’re actually doing science, doing engineering, practicing those skill sets, and so it brings it to life for them.”
After one or two years of mentoring, teachers then take over the lessons and use teaching kits prepared by OSU Extension. Nearly 200 students participated in the energy program in 2017; they were among the over 1,600 students participating in 4-H in-school science enrichment programs in Oregon.
“My favorite part has been the experiments, because they are really cool,” said a student at Ninety-One School in Canby, where kids made solar cars and explored different types of energy.
In surveys, each participating teacher said the program was of great value to them and their students. Several teachers plan to teach the lessons themselves next year, while other schools have already registered to have OSU instructors visit their classrooms.