Teaching materials with confidence
Several educators attended last summer's ASM Materials for Teachers Camp, a week-long program bringing together middle and high school teachers looking to reinvigorate their science and math curriculum.
Written by Daniel Le Ray
URBANA, Ill. — According to Amy Truemper, “good lessons involve real-life connections.”
A middle school teacher from Aurora, Illinois, Truemper was one of several educators who attended last summer’s ASM Materials for Teachers Camp. This week-long program brings together middle and high school teachers looking to reinvigorate their science and math curriculum.
The most valuable aspect of the ASM camp for Truemper was seeing how simple experiments “could be connected to real-life problems in order to get kids excited and engaged in understanding these concepts.” The experience also offered her the chance to learn from fellow educators, she said.
Greg Massack, a middle school teacher from northwest Indiana, echoed Truemper’s sentiments, saying, “I love the environment, and I love the interaction.” Massack added that the camp is a place for “lifelong learning. [It’s] another pathway to doing something differently, to grow personally and professionally.”
This year’s camp was led by master teachers Sherri Rukes from Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Illinois, and Justin Sickles from West Mifflin Area High School in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. Rukes, who has been a master teacher for 15 years, believes that young learners must understand the real-world relevance of what they’re learning.
“It’s hard for kids – it’s abstract,” said Rukes, who received her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois. “I try to show kids the practical aspects of the sciences.”
Experiments demonstrating this practical side of things can be simple – but they are also effective. For instance, heating up a bobby pin shows how “the way these heat treatments change the material, even though it is the same kind of steel.”
Giving students – and teachers ¬– that “aha” moment is central to the camp’s success, said Sickles, who has been a master teacher for a decade.
ASM camp also builds a community of like-minded educators hoping to spark their students’ imaginations, according to Rukes: “As the days went on, we heard conversations amongst the campers about how they might incorporate it [into their work]. It rejuvenates everyone.”
Though Massack and Truemper are both science teachers, the camp often attracts teachers in fields as diverse as art, English, math or technical education.
“They see how science and their disciplines connect and they bring in their own ideas,” said Rukes.
Sickles added that, while some participants can be more hesitant at the start of a camp — art or technology education teachers, for instance — most eventually realize that they have a breadth of scientific know-how. “They may not understand the technical, chemical or metallurgical background, but they always have an immense amount of knowledge they don’t realize,” he said.
Another way ASM camp embodies its goals of building interdisciplinary connections is in its structure. Campers are not sitting in a lecture hall all week, Rukes explained. “There are discussions and activities, and there are times that we do some teaching,” she said. “There is a lot of doing. We don’t just preach – they practice.”
“My biggest takeaway,” Truemper concluded, “is being excited about making my lessons better, instead of just going through the motions.”
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This story was published March 30, 2023.
Up your STEM knowledge and make those math and core science principles more exciting and relevant to your middle and high school students. Register for the ASM Materials Education Foundation's Materials Camp for Teachers held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from June 26-30. You'll stay at the U of I for free and all meals will be provided.