Teachers work with Fermilab staff in professional development ‘hackathon’

An example of a tool that middle- and high-school teachers generated in EPE’s professional development hackathon on February 26, 2021.

An example of a tool that middle- and high-school teachers generated in EPE’s professional development hackathon on February 26, 2021.

What do you get when you cross 27 dedicated teachers from schools across DuPage County with Fermilab scientists, engineers and computing professionals for a day? You get creative, real-world science connected classroom lessons that are unique and engaging.

Fermilab’s Office of Education and Public Engagement hosted a science teaching “hackathon” titled “Making It Real, Virtually! Connecting Fermilab Science to Your Classroom” for the DuPage Regional Office of Education Countywide Teacher Institute Day on February 26. This was a virtual first for EPE.

ROEs provide services and professional development and support for educators, schools and communities to improve student academic success. Teacher institute days are workdays providing teachers time for professional development often offered through an ROE. The countywide event allowed teachers to choose from a diverse list of opportunities for new learning and new strategies to improve lessons and energize the classroom experience for students.

And what better way to charge students and science curricula than to meet with Fermilab staff to make real-world STEM connections to the extraordinary cutting-edge research of Fermilab?

Another example of a tool that middle- and high-school teachers generated in EPE’s professional development hackathon on February 26, 2021.

Another example of a tool that middle- and high-school teachers generated in EPE’s professional development hackathon on February 26, 2021.

Middle- and high-school teachers, divided into seven topic-specific video-chat groups advised by seven Fermilab experts, spent the day brainstorming to develop authentic science classroom activities. Over five hours, teachers learned about the work going on at Fermilab, met in small teams and then regrouped to share the lesson activities they created. These activities were generated from shared experiences working with the challenges of developing authentic science activities in the classroom with the challenges of doing science at a world-class laboratory. Teachers synergized their collective expertise with Fermilab know-how to create motivating activities.

These project-based activities include using collisions of everyday objects to understand the collision of subatomic particles in the NOvA experiment, implementing a lesson on natural observation and diversity within a growing greenspace that culminates in a school native plant sale, and using the engineering design process to land a rover safely on Mars.

Lessons began with a hook— an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge — to pique student curiosity and lead investigation of a real-world situation to be solved that would ultimately connect to the science of Fermilab. The activities aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and Science and Engineering Practices to provide the best tools to engage students in how science is done. Teachers shared their activities at the conclusion of the session. These group lessons have been uploaded to Fermilab’s extensive collection of educational resources at https://ed.fnal.gov/programs/hackathon/.

The participants went away wanting more. The combination of real lesson plans and real-world connections to Fermilab created a fantastic event. One teacher commented that they hoped they could participate again because they had learned so much from both their colleagues and Fermilab.

Knowing this format is successful and was so well received means EPE looks forward to continuing to offer this type of collaborative and applicable professional development to teachers both local and national.

We are thankful for the generosity and talents of the following Fermilab “advisers” who participated in the event: Anna Hall, Wally LeVernier, Anna Pla-Dalmau, Jeny Tehran, Todd Johnson, Abhilash Dombara and Aria Soha.

Maureen Hix is the life science education program leader and education facilitator coordinator in the Office of Education and Public Engagement.