A groundbreaking program at Virginia Tech designed to introduce children to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines is offering a new program component to help teachers bring STEM topics to the classroom while providing an opportunity for professional career development.

Kids’ Tech University is a program developed at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech in partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program to spark children’s interest in scientific research and introduce them to life on a university campus. Held four Saturdays over the course of a semester, the events feature lectures from internationally recognized scientific researchers and coordinating hands-on activities. Approximately 450 kids attended the inaugural Kids’ Tech University session in January, 2009.

Kids’ Tech University was a featured program at the recent Governor's Conference for STEM Education as part of a showcase of successful STEM education programs from around the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The conference provided an opportunity to introduce educators from across the state to a new feature included in the 2010 Kids’ Tech University session — a workshop component that offers Continuing Education Unit credits for teachers to advance their professional career development.

Kathleen Jamison, extension specialist for 4-H Youth Development with Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech and a former university professor in elementary and middle school education, is leading this part of the program, which is designed to encourage teachers and school district representatives to explore new ways to bring interactive learning and STEM content featured in the Kids’ Tech University lectures to the classroom.

Each two-day workshop will be held the day before and the day of each Kids’ Tech University spring semester event. The first day will feature a four-hour interactive training session, where teachers will work closely with scientists, technology experts, engineers, and mathematicians. For the second day, workshop participants will watch the Kids’ Tech University lecture and have the opportunity to implement the techniques acquired on the first day of training at special learning stations designed to provide opportunities for interaction with children in attendance.

The goal of both training days is to equip teachers with specific strategies to help them implement fundamental lesson concepts from the lectures and training sessions in the classroom.

“[Kids’ Tech University’s] overreaching goal is to increase students’ awareness and appreciation of STEM disciplines,” explained Kristy DiVittorio, a senior research associate in education and outreach at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute who helps lead Kids’ Tech University efforts. “What better way is there to reach the students than through their teachers? The idea behind the teacher workshops is to build on the success of our first [Kids’ Tech University] semester by helping educators incorporate concepts from our [Kids’ Tech University] events into their lesson plans and hands-on classroom activities, while earning [Continuing Education Unit] credits.”

The program has also established partnerships with the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) for the workshops. ANDRILL, a multinational collaboration of scientists, students, and educators developed to recover stratigraphic records from the Antarctic continental margin, will lead the session “Hot Topics in Cool Science.” Through the compelling story of ANDRILL’s research in the extremes of Antarctica, participants will be introduced to cutting-edge climate change science and “Antarctica's Climate Secrets” hands-on materials. NCTM will work with Jamison on a session titled “Illuminating Math Concepts.” With more than 100,000 members and 230 Affiliates, NCTM is the world’s largest organization dedicated to improving mathematics education in prekindergarten through grade 12.

“4-H’s response to STEM needs includes an intentional national focus on science, engineering, and technology through all 106 land grant university systems across the United States,” explained Jamison. “4-H is in every county and city in Virginia and can provide opportunities for deepened out-of-school time learning through science content topics, using strategies to reinforce scientific investigation, engineering design, and invention. Teachers and county 4-H agents can partner for effective, seamless programming to deepen learning, anchor science concepts, and provide time for exploration of current and relevant issues.”

The following is the schedule for the spring 2010 Kids’ Tech University teacher workshop:

  • On Jan. 29-30, 2010, instructors Patrick Vennebush of National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Kathleen Jamison of Virginia Cooperative Extension, will be speaking on Illuminating Math Concepts.
  • On Feb. 26-27, 2010, instructors Louise Huffman of the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program and Kathleen Jamison of Virginia Cooperative Extension will be covering Hot Topics in Cool Science.
  • On March 19-20, 2010, Kathleen Jamison of Virginia Cooperative Extension will be speaking on Interactive Learning with Science: Why do we need alligators in swamps?
  • On April 9-10, 2010, instructor Kathleen Jamison of Virginia Cooperative Extension will present Interactive Learning with Engineering: Why can't humans walk on water and climb walls with their fingertips like spiders?

Hours for each workshop are 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the first day and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the second day. The cost for each two-day session is $30 and participants will receive 1.2 Continuing Education Unit credits upon completion. More information is available online.