Teachers Take Summer School at UTEP

Last Updated on August 15, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published August 15, 2017

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP Communications

On the third day of the Teacher Quality Summer Program at The University of Texas at El Paso, Geological Sciences Professor Laura Serpa, Ph.D., stood in front of a classroom of middle school teachers to demonstrate how they, too, could build a weather station anemometer using plumbing supplies from Home Depot and a hot glue gun.

Middle school teachers
Middle school teachers learned to build anemometers, a weather monitoring instrument used to measure wind speed, at UTEP’s Teacher Quality Summer Program. Photo: J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Communications

Rather than buy a $30 weather station kit to teach their students about climate change, teachers began to construct a fully functional weather station powered by Rasberry Pi, a low-cost, credit card-sized computer that is used to learn programming.

Scattered across their desks were PVC pipes, magnets, and other small pieces of hardware they used to assemble the station’s anemometer, a weather monitor instrument that resembles a weather vane but calculates wind speed. The device will allow teachers and their students to collect wind speed data and monitor weather patterns at their schools.

“This is what we’re going to use to measure wind speed,” Serpa said, holding up the anemometer she made from scratch. “When we’re done, we’re going to have a program that will log all this data to the web that you’ll be able to share between schools and look at how the weather is doing in different places. You’ll have a large data set that your kids can work with.”

For 20 years, the Teacher Quality Summer Program at UTEP has offered area school teachers hands-on professional development opportunities to expand their skills and explore new ideas to increase their students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Teachers receive stipends and materials to facilitate active learning and implementation in the classroom.

“Teachers get very inspired by this summer program,” said Olga M. Kosheleva, Ph.D., associate professor and co-chair of the Department of Teacher Education and director of STEM education. “They create innovative lessons they will be implementing during fall in their classrooms. This brings teachers' teaching and learning to a higher level."

The year-round program is funded by a Teacher Quality Grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Serpa, Mourat Tchoshanov, Sc.D., professor of teacher education and mathematical sciences, and Kosheleva have collaborated on the grant for the past 12 years. 

“I love this grant,” said Kimberly Watson, a former special education math teacher at Parkland Middle School. This was the third time she participated in the program. “It’s amazing how you can integrate science into all content areas using hands-on activities. You can bring up a science topic like climate and weather and make a math lesson out of it to teach kids how to graph or find the range, mean, median and mode in a data set. Hopefully, they will have a better understanding of those concepts when they go to their science class.”

Over the past three years, Watson has applied the knowledge she has gained from the program to make her classes more interactive. She said her students are more engaged when they're working on hands-on projects.

Watson hopes the students in her English class will be just as eager to learn when she teaches English instead of math this fall.  

“I’m excited to see how we’re going to be able to incorporate science into English,” Watson said.

Her colleague Jamie Diaz has taught 6th grade English at Bassett Middle School for nine years. She said that with a little creativity, science and math can be incorporated into any English Language Arts class. Diaz suggested using the anemometer’s instructions to teach students about organization and procedure. She also considered incorporating the device into a lesson about science vocabulary and weather-related words.

“I’ve noticed a difference in the way that I teach as far as being more hands on and getting the students to talk more collaboratively,” Diaz said as she fastened a bolt with her fingers. She joined the program in spring 2017. “I’m also learning how to incorporate other content areas into mine.”

Ten area school teachers attended the program from July 18-20, 2017. As part of the curriculum, they discussed the causes of weather and climate change and learned about the different instruments that meteorologists use to monitor the weather. They also learned how to program code into the Rasberry Pi to measure wind speed.

To assemble the anemometers, teachers closely followed Serpa’s step-by-step directions.

First they glued two magnets to the inside of a PVC cap, along with a reed switch to download the data to the Rasberry Pi. On the outside of the cap, they fastened three plastic ornament shells. As the wind blows, the shells will rotate, making the cap spin and causing the magnets to send electrical impulses to the Rasberry Pi. The anemometer will count the number of rotations the cap makes to calculate wind speed. The stronger the wind, the more rotations the cap will make. 

“Weather is part of our curriculum,” said Stephanie Klenke, a social studies teacher at Charles Middle School. Klenke earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UTEP. “Usually (students) just see pictures of wind. So, if they do a hands-on activity like this, they’ll understand it a little bit better.”

The Teacher Quality Grant will continue into the fall semester at UTEP. Teachers will finish building their weather stations during future sessions. They plan to add temperature, pressure and humidity sensors and a rain gauge. Teachers are also expected to implement a lesson about weather into their classroom lesson plans. 

Serpa said these types of hands-on activities help school teachers better prepare their students for college.

“The main reason I do this is because I would like to get good college students that are enthusiastic and prepared to be here,” Serpa said. “This is the future of education. Students need to be able to do things. They need to be able to cross disciplines and not be intimidated by the idea that they're going to get their hands dirty.”

Watson said the program has helped her become a better teacher by making learning fun for her students.

“It’s definitely made my classroom a lot more hands on,” Watson said. “I like my classroom to be a place where students can be engaged. I want them out of their desks. I don’t want them sitting. I want them doing. Kids get a lot out of that.”

View photos from the UTEP Teacher Quality Summer Program here.