B2 Helping to Create Strong STEM Ties

Kent Hegedus, Estrella Mountain Elementary School
April 4, 2013

I love a challenge as much as the next guy, but I’m not sure I would have wanted to stay away from modern conveniences, family, and friends to live inside the Biosphere 2 for two years.

But I do have the motivation to continue learning, so I participated in the Arizona Center for STEM Teachers’ summer institute at the Biosphere 2, designed for K-12 Arizona educators to further their expertise in science, technology, engineering and math. I knew this institute was what I needed to empower my students, even though it meant giving up 16 days of my summer break.

As a fifth grade teacher at Estrella Mountain Elementary, I ask my students to take charge of their own education – to be active participants – and I want to demonstrate the same habits. There is a direct correlation between teacher effectiveness and student achievement. The summer institute empowered me to develop strong STEM ties in my classroom, and the impact has been amazing. 

Expectations for summer institute participants were set high, and our days started early and ran late. The lead instructors had energy, enthusiasm, and a genuine willingness to help students grow in the STEM fields. They challenged us as teachers and learners to break out of our comfort zones. My mind was so actively engaged, it became hard to sleep at night as I tried to sort, file, and make plans for all of the new knowledge and resources.

Being able to walk around each biome and experience the variety of vegetation and climates was amazing. In a matter of minutes I could be in the humid rainforest, surrounded by bamboo and banana trees, then on an ocean beach, a savanna, or experiencing the desert’s heat. Don’t lean on the alluaudia montagnacii unless you love acupuncture!

Each activity was carefully planned and included water lessons, building bridges and bottle rockets, using telescopes, creating solar ovens, engaging technology and various forces of nature. Almost two years later, my biobottle is still full of life! Along the way we were tasked with conducting a research project, then presenting it to the group and grant representatives.

We had guest speakers from across the state, including from the University of Arizona College of Engineering, where my son studies, and Linda Leigh and Jane Poynter, two of the original Biospherians.

Back at home, using some new strategies, my students’ engagement and excitement has reached new heights. They look forward to the inquiry lessons and are finding connections between those and events in books, in the news, and in their own lives.

In today’s world, scientific discoveries and technological advances are happening at a rapid rate. My students need to be scientific thinkers – even if that is not their field of choice. I’m more empowered to teach them.

My mind is still racing.

The Arizona Center for STEM Teachers, in conjunction with the Arizona Public Service Foundation, will be offering the summer institute at Biosphere 2 July 8-18. The intensive workshop is being offered to 55 Arizona elementary teachers and is designed to inspire and support their classroom practice.

Photo credit: Cory Flagg

Kent Hegedus is a fifth grade teacher at Estrella Mountain Elementary School in Goodyear. He participated in the Biosphere 2 Arizona Center for STEM Teachers’ summer institute in 2011. This year’s institute will be held July 8-18 and is made possible with grant funding from Arizona Public Service Foundation.


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