Summer Institute Brings Engineering Education to K-12 Teachers and Students

June 28, 2011

NTC Director Dr. Larry Rilett teamed up with Dr. Gina Kunz and Dr. Gwen Nugent of the Nebraska Center for Research on Youth, Families, and Schools (CYFS) for the sixth incarnation of the popular Professional Development Science and Math Summer Technology Institute. The summer institute is a unique opportunity for middle and high school math and science teachers to learn about transportation engineering and incorporate core math and science concepts into transportation-based lesson plans.

This year, specially trained instructional coaches & experienced local math and science teachers worked closely with teachers to encourage them to think about ways to use inquiry to spark students' interest in the learning activities. Ten teachers and eight coaches spent four intensive days learning about transportation engineering from faculty and graduate student presenters, who discussed the latest research projects and the math and science concepts that are essential to the work. After group discussions and one-on-one meetings with their coaches, teachers created lesson plans that incorporate inquiry and hands-on math and science learning through transportation applications.

After a trial run with their peers, teachers were ready to show their lessons to middle and high school students. Over 125 students from 24 schools in the Lincoln and Omaha area attended this year's Engineering Education Excellence Experience, in which students had the option of spending one or two days on campus learning about engineering research while experiencing and reviewing the new lessons. The program hosted a special guest group of students from Culler Middle School's "Camp Cougar" summer program and a group of young ladies from Girls Incorporated of Omaha. Throughout the mornings, groups of students rotated through several different exciting lessons.

After lunch, students, accompanied by coaches and teachers, toured the UNL engineering labs. In the Structural Laboratory, students learned about how bridges are designed to be safe and reliable and watched a concrete cylinder undergo a compression test and explode. Students gazed with wide eyes up at the giant machinery and structural components in the lab. Meanwhile, the other half of the group was introduced to the Geomaterials Laboratory. Students learned about the many different components used to make asphalt.

At the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility proving grounds, students did not mind the very warm afternoon outside as they watched a test with a "bogie" ramming into a wooden post and breaking it free from its asphalt moorings. They were fascinated by the cars that had been crushed in past tests. After students returned to the Whittier Research Center, a representative from Flatbed Express, a Nebraska freight company, showed students a flatbed truck and talked about the many career options at trucking companies.

At the end of the day, students enjoyed a tasty snack while completing post-evaluations to measure learning and to gain feedback to inform future Summer Institutes. Amazingly, students still had energy at the end of the jam-packed day and were excited to head home with a water bottle to match their new Engineering Education Excellence Experience t-shirts!