STEM educators converge on Purdue campus for annual conference

The 8th annual Indiana STEM Education Conference took place on January 12 at Purdue University, sponsored by Purdue’s Center for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of STEM (CATALYST), the College of Education, 1st Maker Space, Amplify, Comcast, Get More Math, LEGO Education, Keep Indiana Learning, STEM Synergy, NearSpace Education, Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, STEM Education Works, Tallo, and TinkRworks.

Educators from around the state participated in the 8th Annual Indiana STEM Education conference on Thursday, which featured 2022 Indiana Teacher of the Year Sharita Ware giving opening statements.

Sharita Ware and STEM

In October last year, Ware was surprised at her place of work, East Tipp Middle School, where she teaches engineering and technology, with the 2022 Indiana Teacher of the Year Award.

As part of the opening events for this year’s Indiana STEM Education conference, Ware shared a few stories from her experiences growing up and within her classroom today about what STEM means to her, and why it’s important.

2022 Indiana Teach of the year delivers a keynote speech during the Indiana STEM Education Conference, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Purdue Memorial Union in West Lafayette, Ind.
2022 Indiana Teach of the year delivers a keynote speech during the Indiana STEM Education Conference, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Purdue Memorial Union in West Lafayette, Ind. Alex Martin/Journal And Courier

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and focuses on incorporating these elements into students’ education more so than they have in the past.

“For me, STEM is what your most vivid imagination can dream of, and then you do it,” Ware said during her presentation. “So I think about my upbringing and my childhood and the fun I had in my grandfather’s wood shop. Taking my dad’s supplies and building Barbie houses…for me, it’s trying to create that environment.”

Ware shared a few stories of students not just learning but interacting with STEM within her curriculum.

“I had student, when we were making prosthetic legs, who wanted to bring his (3Doodler Pen) in and use it,” Ware said. “And that wasn’t on my tool list. That wasn’t on my supply list. And I said ‘Sure, if you can make it work.’ And he did. He had a moving joint using that 3D pen…and so I thought, ‘This is it, what they can dream of.'”

Ware concluded her speech with stating what all needs to come together and work synergistically for STEM educations to be successful in today’s schools.

“We need people,” Ware said, “working together…teachers, parents, administrators all working together in agreement of that one purpose – and that is creating the next environment, the next generation of innovators and creators.

“Obviously, we need money. We need the infrastructures in place that help make our jobs easier. We need all of these things working together, being willing to change to meet the needs of the next generation of learners, leaders and creators.”

Attendees of the conference and its importance

Educators attend the Indiana STEM Education Conference, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Stewart Center in West Lafayette, Ind.
Educators attend the Indiana STEM Education Conference, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Stewart Center in West Lafayette, Ind. Alex Martin/Journal And Courier

After Ware’s opening statements, the STEM education conference was open to the 60 sessions offered throughout the day in the Stewart Center.

These sessions had a wide range of topics, including “Think Tanks: Expanding Students Interests in STEM Topics,” “Computer Science and Coding…The Future of Everything,” “STEM for All Language Learners,” and many more.

A few people spoke with the Journal & Courier on why they decided to come to the conference, the importance of a STEM education and more.

Why did you decide to attend today’s conference?

“This is a great event for us to talk to teachers,” Megan Gunn, recruitment and outreach specialist for the Department of Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) at Purdue and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, said. “…it just really gives us a frontline audience of those science teachers that are in the state.”

Why is a STEM education important, to both students and teachers?

2022 Indiana Teach of the year delivers a keynote speech during the Indiana STEM Education Conference, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Purdue Memorial Union in West Lafayette, Ind.
2022 Indiana Teach of the year delivers a keynote speech during the Indiana STEM Education Conference, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Purdue Memorial Union in West Lafayette, Ind. Alex Martin/Journal And Courier

Gunn answered this question from the perspective that not many people first consider forestry and natural resources when they think of STEM programs, and how she and her department are trying to change that.

“We have found that not a lot of people think about natural resources when they’re thinking about STEM,” Gunn said. “So we’re trying to make sure that we’re including this aspect in their teachings. And it’s important because the environment is all around us…it’s all part of natural resources. So, just trying to get students to understand that it’s important for us.”

STEM Teach Indiana is a program that offers courses, degrees and certificates in STEM-related fields to Indiana K-12 teachers and schools. Trish Wlodarczyk, the director of strategic initiatives for the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis, spoke about the benefits of teachers themselves expanding their education in STEM with certifications.

“We just consider hands-on, minds-on learning when we look at the future pipeline for Indiana Hoosiers,” Wlodarczyk said. “We know that it’s a career area that needs a lot of focus…so we just try to serve that need.”

What are your goals in helping students or teachers in the STEM field?

Due to STEM Teach Indiana’s services being more teacher-led, Wlodarczyk discussed the goals the program has when a teacher approaches them to expand their STEM-teaching certifications.

“We want them to infuse STEM education into every single classroom in the U.S.,” Wlodarczyk said, “whether it is with math or science…any kind of STEM approach – we don’t want to get just pigeon holed into one content area – but rather STEM as as a whole into everything.”

To learn more about the courses, degrees and certifications in STEM-related areas that STEM Teach Indiana offers, visit its website at www.stemteachindiana.org.

Gunn reflected on hers and the FNR’s goals when it comes to provided a STEM education.

“My goal is that (students) find something that’s interesting that they may not have thought was interesting before,” Gunn said.

Source: Journal & Courier https://www.jconline.com/story/news/local/purdue/2023/01/13/stem-educators-converge-on-purdue-campus-for-annual-conference/69794481007/

Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at mchristopherson@jconline.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2.