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Teachers become students during Research Experience for Teachers at Appalachian

BOONE—A dozen teachers from Western North Carolina participated in a six-week summer program at Appalachian State University and learned to use computer visualization and other computer applications to create lesson plans and labs that will excite their students about math and science.

View larger imageWatauga High School’s Nick Westveer, left, and West Wilkes High School’s Rebecca Cooper were among a dozen teachers elected to attend the Research Experience for Teachers program at Appalachian State University this summer. The program provides resources and training for science teachers to excite their students about computer science.

The Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Each teacher received a $6,000 stipend as well as room, board and parking on campus during the summer session. They also can receive an additional $1,000 during the academic year by working with their peers to develop new computer science modules and assisting with an RET workshop to be held in the fall.

Dr. Rahman Tashakkori, the Lowes Distinguished Professor of Computer Science in Appalachian’s Department of Computer Science, leads the program. Assistant Professor Mitch Parry, also from the Department of Computer Science, is co-principal investigator of the NSF grant.

“There is a huge need for computer science skills in the United States, but we don’t have computer science programs in most of our schools,” Tashakkori said. “The RET program prepares STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers to utilize computer science tools in their teaching, encouraging their students to pursue computer science.”

Rebecca Cooper from West Wilkes High School said she and other teachers spent the first two weeks of the program learning basic computer programming and other software programs and participating in lab exercises. They later used that knowledge to develop their own course modules and lesson plans and a research project that includes the computer science concepts they learned at the beginning of the summer program.

Nick Westveer from Watauga High School said the RET program gave him and other teachers the opportunity to collaborate on their computer science modules, test them on one another and other students, and fine tune the plans before implementing them in the classroom.

“The Research Experience for Teachers Program allowed us to learn about teachers’ unique experience in their classrooms and enabled us to share our own,” Tashakkori said. “It wasn’t all about research, it was about teaching, learning and building a community that worked together to make good things happen.”

Westveer created a lab for his students that converts text to pictures using a computer program called ImageJ. “That’s something I would have never done before, but it can be used in my science classes to show how images are made and to alter more complex images,” he said.

Cooper used a computer, Xbox Kinect and animated stick figure software to create a program to help students visualize ratios, distances, to plot points and make graphs. “Probably half of my students have this piece of equipment that can be used for something other than play a game,” she said of the Xbox.

She also helped write another lab that combines math, computer science and chemistry to balance chemical equations.

While every student in Cooper’s class has a laptop, they don’t always want to use them, Cooper said. “I think these labs will make it more fun for them in the classroom,” she said.

Westveer also uses computers every day in his classroom. He said the RET program gave him more skills to help his students explore in-depth computer science concepts.

“Our STEM teachers will do a lot with very little to ensure our kids receive the best education,” Tashakkori said. “They work very hard during the year and have families to take care of during summer. The teachers who attended the RET program this summer were excited and brought a lot of energy. They are going to make a huge difference in our schools.”

Teachers participating in this summer’s program are:

  • Adam Benoit, Lincolnton High School
  • Thomas Brown, Watauga High School
  • Rebecca Cooper, West Wilkes High School
  • Veronica Dooly, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
  • Larry Hamlin, T.C. Roberson High School
  • Loren Hord, T.C. Roberson High School
  • Nick Inman, Kings Mountain High School
  • Jessica Jenkins, Watauga High School
  • Rayvis Key, Kings Mountain High School
  • Jennifer LeBlanc, West Wilkes High School
  • Errol Shook, Watauga High School
  • Nick Westveer, Watauga High School