STEM in the Park offers Educator ExternTrips twice a year for K-12 educators to spend a few hours visiting local STEM companies for an out of classroom field trip – just for them! ExternTrips expose educators to real world careers so that they can bring this experience back to the classroom and utilize it in their lesson plans.
John Deere ExternTrip
Post by: Pedro Bolanos, High School Computer Engineering Teacher
Part of my job as a teacher is to seek opportunities to improve my classroom experience for my students; so when I received an email from STEM in the Park to participate in their program, I had no hesitation applying to it. During my scheduled teacher work day, I visited the 38,000 sq. ft. facility where John Deere Turf Care manufactures industrial lawn equipment designed for golf courses and agricultural applications.
It is an impressive facility that showcases state of the art equipment, efficient assembly lines and a workforce focused on safety and product quality. I was most impressed at the amount of research and testing performed on lawn equipment. Not only do they test for emissions and performance on their engines, but they also have a designated land area where prototypes are tested on different terrain slopes and on a variety of turfs. I also had the opportunity to experience their virtual lab. A place where you can drive or test new equipment and also evaluate competitors’ lawn products.
One thing was clear to me during this tour: the management stressed the importance in promoting STEM education in the classroom. I experienced firsthand an array of disciplines while visiting. From electrical, mechanical, industrial, computing, to design, customer support and marketing. John Deere Turf Care is developing a mentoring program with its employees. These mentors are available as guest lecturers which strengthen the classroom experience. Bringing diversified speakers into the classroom, where students see first-hand that STEM education for women and less-represented groups is on the rise, may improve student learning. My goal is to lead students toward engineering careers that are in much demand.
I’m grateful to Paul Collins and Colleen Carlotto at John Deere Turf Care for having me and other Wake County teachers visit their facility and providing a memorable professional development for teachers. I’m also grateful to all the team members who graciously shared their passion and knowledge with us.
RTI International ExternTrip
Post by: Michelle Duncan, K-8th Grade School Counselor
My time at RTI International was filled with learning and opportunity in relation to STEM and many ideas I could take back for our school. The guest speakers selected were interactive and dynamic and shared personal experience that led them to their current careers. This gave visitors the comfort and permission to make connections and contacts that I know will continue even after our visit. I know this was a new adventure for RTI to hold and I want organizers to know this was very useful and topics shared will be transferred into the classroom.
I plan to share information learned from the ExternTrip with staff. Many of the RTI researchers who spoke, and projects shared directly align with multi-disciplinary units and explorations our students work on. I hope to connect some of the experts from RTI with staff for project-based work where students can interact and ask questions from real professionals in the field. I really appreciate the time given and the experience I had at RTI. I hope the contacts made at the ExternTrip will develop into partners for our school and I look forward to the future opportunities that will be available through this experience.
Post by: Lydia Paulk, High School Science Teacher
STEM in the Park with the EPA will truly have an impact on not only student learning, but engagement into environmental subject matter. Ms. Hartley was so helpful in her direction and follow up questioning. I feel confident that I can be successful with her tools. The broad concepts of biodiversity and ecosystem services are difficult for many students. The lightning talks given by scientists in these fields gave real world examples that students can connect to.
Living in North Carolina affords educators a great opportunity. The exploration of oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams is something that integrates with our curriculum with ease. Our dynamic watersheds allow for the creation of lessons that focus, not only on the present conditions in the state, but also on predicting the future.
My biggest take away was EnviroAtlas, an interactive resource that allows any user to discover and analyze data on a map. The information shared about the mapping of Durham and the real world application of environmental planning is truly cool. Using this data as a case study will allow teachers to bring a strong, in-depth perspective to learning. I cannot wait for EnviroAtlas to expand their fine-scale data to the rest of Wake County!
A note from EPA-RTP ExternTrip Host
“Huge thanks to STEM in the Park for letting me run my first-ever teacher workshop at the EPA in RTP. We had a really great day and I learned so much from the teachers’ ideas. It was a truly collaborative experience. I loved that the teachers came from such a wide variety of grade levels and subjects, since our educational materials are designed to be adaptable for K-16 students, and it made for very rich discussions. Can’t wait to host more teachers again in the future!”
Jenna Hartley, ASPPH Environmental Health Fellow
Be sure to check out Part 3 of the educators’ perspectives!
These posts have been edited and condensed for clarity.