July 21, 2016 – Teachers went to class and learned to play like children, to help bring science curriculum home to their respective students. The U.S. Air Force Academy hosted its annual STEM teacher boot camp July 19-21, bringing in 110 K-12 teachers from across Colorado and several other states, to improve STEM teaching skills.
The bootcamp focuses on the instruction of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM – and has been held at the Academy annually since 2010.
“This is probably one of the best professional development programs I get all year long,” said Katie Hobbs, a biology and chemistry teacher at Mesa Ridge High School in Colorado Springs. “We need more professional developments like this for teachers.”
She attended the first STEM bootcamp at the Academy in 2010 at the suggestion of her principal, and hasn’t looked back.
“It all clicked. I said ‘this is it. This is how they apply everything. This is how they take what I’m teaching them and apply it to the real world and problem solve and learn how to think. STEM bootcamp is actually what drew me into STEM,” Hobbs said.
Since then, she’s won three teacher of the year awards for her work in STEM.
“STEM bootcamp literally changed and revolutionized the way I teach and the way I see the teaching field and what my students need to know to be successful,” she said.
The focus for this now-seventh annual bootcamp is robotics and coding. For the robotics side, teachers used a Sphero robot, a small robot encased in a round plastic tube the size of a baseball, travelling with the same ease as the iconic BB-8 android from the Star Wars films.
For the bootcamp’s Sphero robotics exercise, teachers were tasked to make their robot travel certain distances and make several angled turns, and then later to knock down an improvised bowling pin, all the while envisioning how to use the toy to capture students’ attention and apply lessons.
“Robotics is one thing that stood out to me this year,” Hobbs said. “What kid doesn’t love robotics? So I can bring in robotics to the classroom and they can work out math, just doing basic fractions to make the robot turn 45 degrees to hit this end goal. What kind of math do we need to do and how do have to do all that?”
The robot used in the STEM bootcamp will join the faculty at each of the bootcamp teacher’s schools.
“The Academy’s Office of Research teams with the Challenger Learning Center and donors and funding from the Air Force STEM office to provide each teacher with more than $200 in hardware, supplies, and/or cash grants to purchase STEM supplies for classroom project-based learning,” said retired Col. Rob Rob Fredell, executive director of the Challenger Learning Center and former Air Force Academy chief scientist.