Engineering Grad Students Making a Difference in Tech School Classrooms

Technical High School students across Connecticut enjoyed a unique opportunity to explore engineering principles, get involved in hands-on technical projects and competitions, and interact with UConn engineering graduate students throughout the 2010-11 academic year, thanks to an NSF-sponsored program called Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education.

The GK-12 program in the School of Engineering is supported by a $2.7 million NSF award and is intended to provide graduate students unique learning opportunities that will broadly prepare them for professional and scientific careers in the 21st century, while invigorating K-12 classrooms with valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) lessons.  UConn elected to focus on the often underserved Connecticut Tech Schools, which provide an excellent education for technically-inclined students across the state.

Remarking on the benefits of having a doctoral student embedded in her A.I. Prince Technical High School class, teacher Deirdre Shaw said, “It has been a rewarding experience for my students to have had the opportunity to participate in the STEM program and have a GK-12 Fellow available to work with them.  Paiyz Mikael provided not only activities and expertise in math and science but an enthusiasm for learning.”  With Paiyz’s technical support, Prince Tech students designed a greenhouse ecosystem that will be used for a live butterfly exhibit at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford.

Paiyz is one of eight GK-12 Fellows who participated in the program during the 2010-11 school year. She was joined by GK-12 Fellow peers Jason Arena, Neil Spinner, Jason White, Kyle Brady, Martin Huber, Alex Lassman and Greg Wrobel. The Fellows wrapped up their first year as mentors, teaching partners and likely change agents in their collaborations with Tech School teachers and students. The engineering graduate students serve as classroom resources, working closely with teachers to organize engaging, hands-on projects to convey fundamental engineering concepts, with a focus on the issues of sustainable design, efficiency, and conservation. In doing so, they seek to spread their enthusiasm for engineering and technology to a new generation of students.

At the Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton, GK-12 Fellow Jason White interacted regularly with teachers Larry Fritch of the Biosciences and Environmental Technology Department (BET), Jamie Lamitie of the Electrical Department, and mathematics teachers Heidi DeCosta and Carlos Flores and their students.  With his assistance, the BET and Electrical students worked with hydroelectric energy to power small LED devices and built a portable hydroelectric demonstration that can be used to teach other students about this green energy source. The BET students also experimented with biodiesel fuel production from waste cooking oil, and plan to start making large batches of fuel to power the school’s diesel tractors. In the two mathematics classes, students engaged in “hands-on” math lessons including modeling a bouncing ball, paper airplane engineering, and modeling can implosion. Grasso Tech students were thrilled to win $1,000 in the Keep CT Cool contest to carry out student’s green initiatives.

At Ellis Tech, Fellow Greg Wrobel encouraged students to participate in competitions, such as CL&P’s Live Green Win Green and his own Green Battle, in which students could submit their own ideas on how to make a building, workshop or vehicle more “green.” One group, “The Green Eagles,” designed a radiant floor heating system that stores excess heat from the sun and shower/dish water to help heat a house.

One popular activity that captivated students at several of the schools involved the design and construction of an electricity-generating wind turbine.  Vinal Tech students and GK-12 Fellow Martin Huber expect to install their wind turbine this fall and continue learning from the device as it produces energy for the school.  Norwich Tech students also designed and built a wind turbine, with guidance from Fellow Kyle Brady.  Kyle also engaged the students with classroom activities such as a trebuchet egg-toss competition that helped to foster creative and critical-thinking skills inherent to the engineering process. Fellow Neil Spinner led Cheney Tech CADD students in the design and fabrication of parts for a fully-functional wind turbine.

At Windham Tech, Fellow Alex Lassman introduced students to various clean energy technologies throughout the school year, and the students applied their lessons to the design, construction and testing of a solar-powered electric scooter.  The proud students showcased their scooter at UConn during a celebration of Earth Day attended by State Rep. Sue Johnson, and also demonstrated their vehicle in appearances on local television and radio programs.

At Goodwin Tech, Fellow Jason Arena worked with two after-school student organizations in addition to his classroom activities.  Helping out the FIRST Robotics Team with their rookie season was a learning experience; however, both Jason and the team look forward to the upcoming season.  Jason also assisted members of the Goodwin Green Technology Club to promote environmentally responsible living and technology.

In the coming year, UConn’s team of GK-12 students will continue to work with Tech School students and their teachers, to enhance engineering awareness and interest in STEM careers. Read more about the GK-12 program here.  View three short videos of simple demonstration projects developed by GK-12 Fellows and their students by clicking on the links below:

Fun with Chemistry

Science in a Minute: Fuel Cells

Science in a Minute: Water Flux


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