0712161129aAs a pre-service teacher, I went into SummerSTEM unsure of what I might gain from the experience.

The two-week program immersed more than 100 educators from 50 Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) K-12 schools in local STEM companies to improve project-based learning (PBL). This was the second year WakeEd Partnership worked with WCPSS to bring educators and business leaders together. I was interested in learning more about project-based learning, and I knew that I would be surrounded by incredible, innovative teachers. What I didn’t know was how transforming and inspiring the experience would be.

Since I’ve done a lot of research on PBL, I knew many of the key terms and ins and outs of the methodology, but I have no experience implementing a project. At SummerSTEM, I had the chance to talk with educators who implement it regularly and learn some of the tricks of the trade from them. I got to share some of my knowledge with other novice PBL teachers like me, and help develop their ideas into projects. Just like every other teacher in the program, I received a teaching coach who will give me the year-long support I need to begin developing my own project ideas, even though I am just starting my student teaching in the fall.

The business immersion experiences, however, really blew me away. WakeEd places educators in two local STEM businesses for an entire day. They’ve partnered with 12 companies, government agencies, and nonprofits to give teachers a full view of the “9 to 5” world. From the moment we walked in the door, the businesses were giving me ideas for my classroom.

At LORD Corporation, they even developed the base for a project on the business aspect of the company that is easily transferable to my future classroom, and gave me a sense of what my students are working toward. They gave us a real-life project that I can implement on day one. Similarly, at SAS, they gave us a taste of ideas that would be easily transferable to a classroom and showed us some helpful online templates for building infographics.

As an added benefit, we learned about summer opportunities for teachers at both companies, where we could do paid externships or contract work to learn more about what they do and to help their company continue growing and contributing to the community. And, as if that wasn’t enough, we also got their cards for future collaboration.

Then, we went through some hands-on tutorials from Wake Tech Community College professors on how to connect technical skills to the work we are doing. We learned what our students will learn in college and I saw an immediate connection for my students, such as the idea that understanding slope was necessary for effective plumbing. On top of that, the professors gave us tips on how to find the materials they use so our students can get hands on experiences.

Finally, the week wrapped up with some much-needed work time and one-on-one time with our teacher coaches. I left feeling energized about implementing projects in my classroom, and I know that I can reach out to any of the teachers and coaches there when I need assistance. WakeEd is also there to support me if I want to reach out to more businesses in the future.

I almost forgot to mention that we received a stipend for this event. WakeEd and WCPSS even partner to pay for our substitutes, which is an added bonus. I guess it slipped my mind because to me this week was priceless. It was transformational for my practice, and the connections I made are invaluable. I am so excited to use everything I learned at WakeEd’s SummerSTEM when I get in the classroom!

Margaret Leak

Summer Intern, WakeEd Partnership