By Allison Nanni
The “Collaborating for Education and Research Forum” convened more than 180 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and research professionals on Saturday, Feb. 23rd, 2013, at the University of Notre Dame’s Jordan Hall of Science. Ignited in 2007 by a GK-12 National Science Foundation grant, the NDeRC (Notre Dame extended Research Community) initiative established an annual forum to promote interaction among K-12 teachers and administrators; university faculty, graduate students and staff; and local industry specialists in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
During plenary and panel sessions, over lunch and through informal conversations, several forum participants described the unintended fractures that sometimes characterize the STEM education and research fields — “disconnects” between K-12 and university educators and between primary, secondary and high school STEM teachers, and the separate nature of specific STEM disciplines.
“It’s one of the few times these groups have the opportunity to get together,” says Mitch Wayne, the University of Notre Dame’s chair of the physics department and NDeRC principal investigator. Wayne says of this year’s forum, “We are thrilled our keynote speaker is Glenda Ritz, the new state superintendent of public instruction from Indiana’s Department of Education.”
One of the forum’s founding organizers is Tom Loughran, a co-principal NDeRC investigator and professional specialist in the department of physics at the University of Notre Dame’s College of Science. Loughran describes Ritz as a natural choice as the keynote speaker and as a panelist.
Loughran says, “The superintendent’s years of state and regional advocacy, two advanced degrees in education and library science, and many years in the classroom have made Ritz a leader in STEM education. Our local STEM community wants to hear what she has to say.”
“The real idea here is collaboration,” says Patrick Mooney, another forum co-founder and educator from Trinity School at Greenlawn. “We aren’t here to tell K-12 educators how to teach or what to do. One of the most important things we do at the forum is listen to each other. We respond to the expressed needs by developing strategies together.”
Evidently the strategies developed are effective. The forum has sparked substantive initiatives and partnerships to strengthen the local area’s STEM culture over the last six years. Mooney reflects on the enthusiasm of the expanding group of diverse forum participants: “The (STEM) community glows brighter and can see itself glow brighter. By attracting more professionals each year, this community is building a culture together.”
Chuck Bueter of Nightwise.org and Amanda Serenevy of Riverbend Community Math Center demonstrate the fine art of assembling comets from dry ice and rock.
Superintendent Glenda Ritz
Pat Chrenka, Teacher, LaSalle Intermediate Center
Nathan Boyd, Principal, LaSalle Intermediate Center
Matt Koser, ND Institute for Educational Initiatives