STEAM Engine project looks to 2016

Full STEAM Ahead: Teacher Workshops to Continue at the Buck!

Building on success of this summer’s pilot program – teachers from Marin, Sonoma and beyond will have another opportunity to work with Buck scientists to develop new, highly engaging, hands-on learning experiences based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The first STEAM Engine project (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics: Engaging Imagination and Nurturing Excitement) involved twenty middle and high school teachers who attended a summer workshop in the Patxi’s Pizza Learning Center and a lesson-planning session in September. The focus was on cell biology with an emphasis on the nervous system and the brain.

The teachers took what they learned back to their schools and shared lesson plans with colleagues. In Marin, some 1100 middle-school students are reaping the benefits of the program which was supported by Dayton and Sheri Coles, who are members of the Buck Advisory Council. The couple has a long-standing interest in medical research (their daughter has Type 1 diabetes) and in education. They have decided to help support the 2016 STEAM Engine program. 

“We are thrilled to see the program rolling out so successfully,” said Sheri, a former teacher who attended some of the sessions. “The teachers were so enthusiastic and it was so encouraging to see them interacting with Buck scientists. We are very supportive of experience-based education and this program has the potential to make a huge impact in the classroom.”

With the implementation of the NGSS on the horizon in California, science teachers need to shift to using inquiry-based methods in the classroom, a departure from the previous method of teaching the facts required to do well on standardized testing.   NGSS emphasizes student experience – young scholars need to be hands-on as they design, perform and analyze experiments. But before the students dive into the science, their teachers need to develop new innovative engaging lesson plans that meet the requirements of NGSS

 “Teachers can often feel isolated and disconnected from real world science, even with the best intentions to bring science alive and make it real for our students,” said Teresa Oefinger, a teacher at Del Mar Middle School in Tiburon. “Working with researchers at the Buck Institute has given me a renewed sense of excitement. And as I employ what I’ve learned from this project, my students are benefiting from lessons that have real-life applications.”

An unexpected result

Buck postdoctoral fellows helped present Buck science during the summer session and one of the most popular activities involved a Lego-based board game developed by Jihyun Kim, PhD, from the Jasper lab. The game, which mimics the stem cell differentiation process, was a huge hit with the teachers who became very competitive

as to who could get their stem cells to grow into neurons. Jihyun is now working with a computer game developer to see if the game can be translated into that format.

Developing the material for the workshop was a group effort that also involved postdoc Barbara Bailus, PhD, staff scientist Dipa Bhaumik, PhD, and K-12 Education Coordinator Julie Mangada, PhD. The Buck team was led by Clare Peters-Libeu, PhD, a Staff Scientist in the Bredesen Lab and the STEAM Engine workshop coordinator. “We have established a working relationship with great teachers who are classroom-testing our lesson plans with an eye toward rolling them out to a much larger cohort of instructors. We were also pleased to engage our postdocs in such a direct way – the program gives them valuable experience and helps bring our science to the community.”

The first STEAM Engine project involved a collaboration with the Marin Office of Education and Sonoma County high school teachers who participated through a Pathways grant to the Sonoma County Office of Education. Those partnerships will continue in the next iteration of the project, with a plan to make the program available to teachers at all levels and in counties adjoining Marin. 

Fundraising is underway that would enable STEAM Engine to expand its reach.  For information on supporting the project please contact Lisa Palma, Director, Foundation and Corporate Relations, at or 415-209-2027.

This year’s version of STEAM Engine will focus on strengthening the field trip program, which teachers are eager to embrace, by working with the educators to develop NGSS-compatible materials and activities to support student-centered inquiry in the classroom.

Written by Barbara Bailus, PhD

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