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Posted 7/26/2013

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By Kristen Skopeck
Los Angeles District

LOS ANGELES — Teachers from among 20 schools in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles gathered the week of June 24 to learn techniques for incorporating hands-on activities related to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, in their classrooms.

The annual effort is the result of close collaboration between Great Minds in STEM™ and the Center for Engineering and Technology Education at California State University Los Angeles.  This year, the Los Angeles District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), and Heal the Bay joined the effort, as they all advocate keeping America technologically strong through the delivery of STEM awareness programs.

According to Lupe Munoz-Alvarado, director of education programs for Great Minds in STEM™, there are a number of objectives during the weeklong workshop for the K-12 grade teachers, with the ultimate purpose of building greater awareness and capacity in STEM education and providing tools to integrate STEM into lesson plans for the 2013-2014 academic year. 

District STEM Coordinator Jennie Ayala commented on the importance of providing STEM curriculum training for teachers, as teachers may not be aware that STEM activities can be worked into nearly every subject and at every level.  She also stressed how beneficial it is for organizations with similar goals to join together for a common purpose, as resources go further.

“The Corps is fortunate to be a part of this effort and partnering with these organizations, because their educational program managers are truly dedicated to demonstrating how STEM activities can be fun, while enlightening about local issues,” Ayala said.  “For example, taking the teachers to the Los Angeles River, when a few of the teachers didn’t even realize it was an actual river, was eye opening for everyone.”

Ayala said when teachers step away from the classroom and become students again they tend to regain an appreciation for how STEM-centered activities positively influence students.    

FOLAR’s Director of Education Programming Shelly Backlar told the teachers how the organization is building a 38-foot vehicle called L.A. River Rover, which will help bring the river to area students.  She said it will teach about the past, present and future of the river, as well as contain an aquarium and other hands-on features. 

Backlar led the teachers in several activities designed to enhance the understanding of watersheds and how people impact how water flows on the surface of the planet.  She shared instructor duties with Edward Murphy, education program manager for Heal the Bay. 

Murphy explained several ways Heal the Bay works to inspire people to appreciate and conserve the ocean through education about the local marine environment.  The organization has an aquarium at Santa Monica Pier, a speakers bureau, and conducts community cleanups. 

“I also teach a high school field science program called “Creek 101,” Murphy said.  “Students learn how to apply scientific skills towards exploring their local creeks and waterways and can evaluate the health of their community.”   

Ayala mentioned that the Corps works directly with Great Minds in STEM™ to sponsor a national STEM awareness program that seeks to foster an increased awareness and interest in science, technology, engineering and math among underrepresented inner-city students in grades K-12.  The initiative is funded through the Department of Defense’s STEM School Support Initiative Program, a five-year pilot program that aims to bring about an increase in the underrepresented minority presence in the nation’s college-level STEM programs. 

“All of our organizations care about the environment and promoting STEM,” Ayala said.  “We believe that if teachers internalize and incorporate STEM activities in their classrooms, it will translate into future benefits for all of us.”

education great minds in STEM heal the bay STEM teachers training