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Parcells teachers to present at national conference


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September 12, 2013
Science teachers Laura Mikesell, Alex Gulyas and Chris Geerer, of Parcells Middle School, have been selected to present next month at "Bridges to the Future," the National Science Teachers Association's 2013 Area Conference on Science Education in Portland, Oregon.

Their presentation, "Shipping from STEM to Stern," illustrates the final project of a two-week unit and asks participants to define and delimit engineering problems, design different solutions to those problems and optimize that design "through a process of trade-offs, using balances, rulers, marbles, aluminum foil and plastic shoeboxes filled with water.

Developed by the three after they all attended the Great Lakes Maritime Transportation Teacher Institute, a summer institute sponsored by Michigan Tech University, Great Lakes Maritime Institute and National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education, the presentation is based on the Great Lakes and maritime shipping industry and the idea of integrating math, science and engineering into a local experience.

"After attending a post-graduate summer institute at Michigan Tech University, we developed a science presentation specifically designed to incorporate a variety of STEM skills into one unifying unit that is easily adaptable to local waterways around the United States," said Mikesell, who has spent the past 21 years teaching middle school in the Grosse Pointe Public School System. "We know our students best identify with topics that are relevant to their immediate surroundings so it was a natural move to base our always-evolving lessons on the Great Lakes."

This is the trio's fourth time presenting at an NSTA or Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development conference. Having used activities based on Great Lakes ecology and differentiation in science classrooms the past few years, Geerer said a change in the NSTA's focus this year — and in science education around the country — caused them to adjust theirs as well.

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"This year, NSTA changed its focus to STEM and national standards, and so we changed our presentation proposal to fit the national goals," said Geerer, a middle school math and science teacher of 18 years, the last 16 at Parcells. "It's always an honor to have a proposal accepted, and it's always exciting to be exposed to the leading experts in our field."

As the instructional landscape continues its shift in science education to a focus and emphasis on technology and engineering, Gulyas said students will be expected to become better technical readers and writers. She said it's her goal to prepare the students for these new rigors and to do so through exposing them to a variety of technical texts that emphasize reading skill and vocabulary identification. With the information she gathers from presenting at and attending national conferences, that amount of exposure only grows.

"In order for our students to be prepared for the rigors of these programs of study, complex scientific texts and vocabulary along with relevant reading/decoding strategies must be practiced at the middle school level," said Gulyas, who started teaching 16 years ago in Riverview before taking a job in Grosse Pointe, where she's spent the last six years. "Although I have had extensive training and practice in scientific writing, attending upcoming conferences on these topics is a priority … I am very much looking forward to attending workshops on common core literacy while in Portland."

Funding for the conference is being shared between Michigan Tech University and GPPSS, while all travel costs incurred are at the expense of her, Gulyas and Geerer.

"We are very grateful for our administrative support as we continue to connect with and learn from our colleagues around the country," Mikesell said.

The conference is Oct. 24 to 26, at the Oregon Convention Center.

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