From secondary teachers to architectural engineering researchers

Applications are open for summer 2021 Research Experience for Teachers programs until April 18


By Gabrielle Stewart

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In Pennsylvania, secondary education standards are designed to help students understand and use science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as the fields evolve.

To aid teachers in meeting these standards, the Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS) in the Penn State College of Education offers a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program to help middle and high school STEM teachers integrate scientific research into the classroom. Funded by a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Teachers site grant and additional external funding, this annual seven-week summer program pairs teachers with a Penn State faculty member for a research experience. It culminates in a presentation and development of a related curriculum plan for students in the teacher’s classroom.

“Because these STEM education standards are relatively new, many teachers have not had training in the type of work scientists and engineers really do,” said Kathy Hill, director of CSATS and associate professor of science education in the College of Education. “This program helps teachers learn by doing science and engineering — work that leads to understanding a phenomenon or solving a complex problem.”

The 2020 architectural engineering (AE) RET program was held virtually. Using tools such as Arduino microcontrollers, design software and even the Roar supercomputer, teachers collaborated with faculty partners to investigate research topics from window efficiency to the preparedness of today’s homes for future climates.

Research made up most of the time in the seven weeks, but the fifth day of every workweek was devoted to an entirely different project: curriculum development.

“For four days a week, teachers are the learners,” Hill said. “But for one day a week, they put their teacher hat on and are working hard to translate what they’re doing in their technical research into a meaningful experience for their students.”

In tandem with the classroom project development, teachers received a $1,500 stipend for implementing it during the academic year and up to $1,000 to cover the purchase of necessary classroom materials, as well as a $5,000 stipend for participating in the RET.

According to anonymous testimonials, the 2020 AE RET was a rewarding program for teachers’ professional development.

“I enjoyed the experience and, more importantly, it enhanced my teaching with a rich scenario that is applicable to several classes,” one participant wrote.

Another teacher said the program enhanced their virtual teaching skills, stating the online meetings with Penn State researchers allowed the teacher to better learn computational tools and practices that could be implemented in the remote learning environment for secondary students.

Six of the eight teachers and all of the AE faculty from the 2020 program will be returning for this year, along with three additional faculty members and four new teacher applicants, according to Hill.

“The faculty had a very positive experience, and RET was a life-changing experience for a lot of the teachers,” she said. “We’re excited for our returning teachers to hit the ground running with new topics as well as support those new to the program this summer.”

Of the 2020 RET teacher participants, eight completed the AE RET:

  • Adria Bondanza, Penn-Delco School District
  • Ann Czeponis, Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School
  • Lindsey Dahl, Erie City School District
  • Alice Flarend, Bellwood-Antis School District
  • Kelly Light, Cornwall-Lebanon School District
  • Michael Lowry, The McCallie School (Tennessee)
  • Andrew Walton, Upper Moreland School District
  • Phil Wood, West Branch Area School District

Seven architectural engineering faculty members participated in the program:

  • Jim Freihaut, professor
  • Julian Wang, associate professor
  • Gregory Pavlak, assistant professor
  • Richard Mistrick, associate professor and chief curricular officer
  • Houtan Jebelli, assistant professor
  • Nathan Brown, assistant professor

Applications are open for summer 2021 RET programs until April 18. For more information and to apply, visit the CSATS RET webpage.


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