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PRISM Workshop Gives Vigo County Science Educators New Classroom Ideas

August 5, 2011

Hallway pedestrians advanced cautiously as a trio of Vigo County School Corporation middle school science teachers loaded another projectile into their slingshot, a simple contraption created from popsicle sticks and rubber bands.  Pulling back on the center of the strand of rubber bands, Lana Thralls adjusted the angle -- from side-to-side and up and down -- to determine the best trajectory to propel a gummy bear the farthest distance down the hallway.  Providing ideas and encouragement were teammates Dianna Cooper and Pam Nicoulin. 

  Learning New Concepts: Lana Thralls prepares to release the homemade slingshot-type device that propelled a gummy bear down a hallway on the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology campus during a recent workshop organized by the college's PRISM project. Assisting in the experiment were fellow Vigo County School Corporation science teachers Pam Nicoulin (left) and Dianna Cooper

"Death by gummy bear!" Cooper laughed as the pedestrians come closer, joking, "It'll just leave a small knot (on the head)."

Cooper, Nicoulin and Thralls were among 34 middle school science educators that participated in Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Summer Intensive Institute, organized by the college's Portal Resource for Indiana Science and Mathematics (PRISM) project.  The workshop is another educational asset of PRISM, which provides free digital resources to middle school and high school teachers of math, science, engineering and technology across Indiana.

The two-week summer program (July 25 to August 5), funded by grants from the Indiana Department of Education and Lilly Endowment Inc., provided area science teachers with an opportunity for professional development and may bring new educational concepts into the classroom for the 2011-12 school year.  The workshop theme was "Educating for the Mind's Eye: Adapting Science Lesson Plans to Incorporate Visual Thinking."  Sessions centered on helping students understand learning through the visualization of relationships.  Topics covered biological visualization, model based learning, developing spatial thinking skills, math visualization and engineering simulation.

Workshop presenters featured Rose-Hulman faculty members Michael Robinson, Renee Rogge, Ella Ingram and Maarij Sayed, along with IUPUI professors Pete Hylton and Wendy Otoupal-Hylton.  The workshop was organized by Patricia Carlson, PRISM's principal investigator and project director.  She noted that there was a waiting list for teachers wishing to participate in the program.

Visualizing Science: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology professor Patricia Carlson(top), director of the PRISM project, helps Vigo County School Corporation science teachers Joyce Striclyn, Johnna Carre and Jacob Mooney understand a concept during this summer's educators' workshop.  The theme of the two-week program was  "Educating for the Mind's Eye.

"The Indiana standards for science have a strong emphasis on inquiry," explains PRISM Educational Liaison Deborah Gaff, who presented a session on teaching concepts to meet middle school and high school weather education standards.  Teachers were given materials and encouraged to develop their own experiments "to give them an opportunity to experience what their students would experience in class," she said.

That's what brought Cooper, Nicoulin and Thralls to the hallway of Rose-Hulman's Olin Advanced Learning Center.  They came up with an experiment to seeing how far they could make the gummy bear travel horizontally, using five gummy bears, five popsicle sticks and five rubber bands. 

"The kids will like this one," Cooper says of the candy-slinging experiment, adding, "I like this one."

Nicoulin agreed, with a smile.  "This is my first year involved with PRISM," she says, "I feel like I'm learning a lot."

Thralls, who returned to the program for a fourth year, added: "(PRISM) give us lots of really neat ideas to take back to the classroom.  They work really hard to give us a good experience."