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Using S’mores to Teach Science and Math

Many elementary and high school students through the years, after sitting through a lecture on fractions or the periodic table, have raised their hands in frustration and asked “why do I need to learn this?”

Given the tremendous need for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers in our increasingly high-tech economy, it is essential that we create stronger pathways for students to develop an interest in science and mathematics, while also producing high quality teachers to engage children in these subjects.

Cleveland State University, in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, has developed multiple programs to enhance understanding of and enthusiasm for mathematics and science concepts among elementary and high school students as well as future teachers. These initiatives aim to create collaborative learning environments that enable students to work together, with teacher guidance, utilizing math and science to solve problems that have meaning to them. They also take learning out of the classroom, partnering with local institutions and businesses such as the Great Lakes Science Center and GE Lighting, to provide practical, hands-on training for students and student teachers alike.

“Engaged, active, collaborative learning has been shown to be essential to assisting students in not only understanding but applying math and science concepts,” says Joanne Goodell, Professor of Teacher Education at CSU. “Through our work with the CMSD we can help develop new methods for math and science training while also providing an interactive learning lab for our student teachers.”

MC2STEM High School in Cleveland, is an example of this collaboration. CSU houses MC2STEM’s 11th and 12th grade students on campus and the CSUteach program, an initiative of the College of Education and Human Services, embeds teams of student teachers at the school’s 9th-grade site housed at the Great Lakes Science Center. The CSU teacher trainees work with groups of MC2STEM students on project-based experiments, applying concepts learned in the classroom. Recently, the teams presented their fall semester projects at a science fair hosted by the Great Lakes Science Center. Examples included wind mills that produced electricity, an interactive map of a nuclear power grid and solar ovens used to bake s’mores.

During the fair, each team was required to present and explain their projects to grade school students from multiple elementary schools in the district, including Campus International School which is also located at CSU. The teams additionally led SOLEs (Self-Organized Learning Environments) for groups of grade schoolers, which were designed to improve teamwork, project-based learning and real-world problem solving.

"The SOLES provided out students an opportunity to practice leadership, management and teamwork through a method that facilitates collaboration, creativity and thoughtful discussion by all participants,” notes CSU student teacher Erik Haggard.

“Working with our students has shown me the necessity of engaged, hands-on learning if we expect our students to be able to apply STEM fields to their everyday lives outside of the MC2STEM walls," adds fellow student teacher Monica Karboski.

Goodell notes that by furthering the connections between university, high school and elementary students CSU hopes to not only improve educational quality but also expand the college pipeline, particularly for often underserved urban school children.  She also hopes that CSU can ultimately duplicate its MC2STEM partnership with additional high schools in the region, while also serving as a model for other education colleges both locally and nationally.

“We are not going to produce more STEM graduates just by wanting it,” Goodell notes. “We need to change the paradigm and work together with our partner high schools to produce effective STEM teachers.”