Fermilab hosts workshop for elementary school teachers

From left: Karen Weigt, Dee Huie, and Marsha Stierwalt, help a teacher from Fox Valley Montessori capture insects during the “Pollinators on the Prairie” activity that was part of the workshop “Insects at Work in Our World” at Fermilab on June 23. Photo: Christine Herman

A group of elementary school teachers recently learned what it is like to look at the world through the eyes of their grade school students.

Three local school teachers received hands-on teacher training at “Insects at Work in Our World,” a lesson-planning workshop that took place June 23 – 24 at the Fermilab’s Lederman Science Center. The point of the workshop was to help equip teachers in bringing science exploration into their classrooms by incorporating the scientific method.

“The scientific method teaches kids that science isn’t about facts and memorizing. It’s about discovery, and everyone can do it,” said Marsha Stierwalt, an elementary school teacher for 23 years.

Stierwalt co-led the workshop with Karen Weigt, who has 12 years of teaching experience.

Successful science lessons consist of asking a question, constructing a hypothesis, performing an experiment, analyzing data and drawing conclusions, Stierwalt said.

To show the difference between effective and ineffective teaching methods, Weigt and Stierwalt had the teachers role-play as first-graders while they led them through a series of classroom activities, some that incorporated the scientific method and others that didn’t.

In the subsequent critique of the two teaching approaches, the teachers concluded that student participation in research and observation is more engaging and effective than passive listening.

“You’re shifting the power of learning from the teacher teaching to the student discovering, and that’s what the scientific method is all about,” Weigt said.

In addition to receiving a binder full of resources and lesson plans, the teachers participated in the “Pollinators on the Prairie” fieldtrip activity for the hands-on study of prairie insects, led by Fermilab docent Dee Huie.

The next teacher’s workshop, “Particles and Prairies,” is a hands-on training event for middle school teachers and will be held July 25-29.

After participating in an education workshop, teachers are welcome to brings students for free fieldtrips to Fermilab every year. Stierwalt and Weigt encourage teachers to participate in workshops to stay up-to-date with education tools and techniques.

“Not only are you getting this information for your kids, but you get this field trip for free,” Stierwalt said. “It’s such a wonderful resource.”

—Christine Herman

Karen Weigt (far right), explains how to use insect display cases to teach children about insects at the workshop “Insects at Work in Our World” at Fermilab on June 23. Photo: Christine Herman