PRISM Program Provides Elementary- and Middle-School Classrooms with New STEM Tools

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Passing Along Ideas: Rob Bunch, professor of physics and optical engineering, leads a PRISM workshop session on energy and efficient lighting. He is leading Rose-Hulman's involvement in a National Science Foundation-sponsored Smart Lighting initiative.

Lego motorized mechanism kits, bio-domes, and VEX robotics are some of several new tools that Indiana elementary- and middle-school teachers will bring into their classrooms this fall in hopes of interesting students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

An educational partnership between Rose-Hulman and the Vigo County School Corporation, through an Indiana Department of Education Math Science Partnership grant, provided nearly 50 teachers with three weeks of intensive hands-on training on programs that can integrate STEM concepts into school curricula.

Sessions were led by Rose-Hulman professors and staff associated with the Portal Resource for Indiana Science and Mathematics (PRISM) program (, supported by Lilly Endowment Inc. PRISM provides resources to assist teachers in learning more about STEM educational standards and effective teaching practices. Earlier this year the Indiana Department of Education praised the decade-long partnership between PRISM and Vigo County schools for providing promising practices in math and science education.

"The ever-increasing emphasis on STEM competencies within the modern workplace mandates that today's teachers merge challenging content, engaging activities, and their own dynamic teaching style," says PRISM Director Pat Carlson. "Our workshops contribute to strengthening Indiana's workforce by helping students develop the content knowledge, problem-solving habits of mind, and socio-cognitive behaviors valuable to a technology-enabled workforce. Our goal is to help fourth- through eighth-grade teachers prepare their students with the 21st-Century skills necessary for success in post-secondary education or to merge easily into the modern workplace."

Workshop sessions have covered a range of intriguing topics, ranging from building robots to visualize geometric and algebraic functions, learning about basic electricity elements by developing wet cell batteries, and examining the physiology of biomedical engineering and life sciences.

Rose-Hulman professors presenting workshop sessions included Renee Rogge and Jennifer O'Connor, professors of biology and biomedical engineering; Chris Miller and Tina Hudson, professors of electrical and computer engineering; Maarij Syed and Rob Bunch, professors of physics and optical engineering; Wayne Tarrant, assistant professor of mathematics; and Jennifer Mueller Price, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

This marked PRISM's eighth summer workshop for Vigo County STEM teachers. Different programs are planned each year, through cooperation with local school officials. Teachers receive specialized designed kits to support the implementation of workshop concepts into easy to understand educational classroom activities.

The lessons and hands-on activities, says eighth grade science teacher Diana Cooper of Otter Creek Middle School, "add another component to teaching because students can conceptualize it, they can build it, they can test it, and then they can write about what they've done"-all important concepts of reinforcing Indiana's math and science curriculum standards.

Joining Carlson in organizing the workshops were Karen Goeller, VCSC's deputy superintendent; John Newport, VCSC's math, science, and assessment coordinator; Ryan Smith, PRISM's system manager and project lead; Bob Jackson, PRISM's educational liaison; and Ashlee Scherwinski, PRISM's outreach coordinator.