Teachers learn to integrate technology into the McKinley STEAM Academy curriculum

McKinley STEAM Academy choir director Avery Mossman laughs Friday after fumbling on his words while reading a teleprompter during a hands-on learning experience to learn about using ‘green screen’ technology at the Cedar Rapids Library in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

On Friday, staff programming librarian Jen Eilers shows McKinley education coach Angela Ptacek how to use Cricut, an electronic cutting machine, during a hands-on learning experience at the Cedar Rapids Library. Teachers were able to learn how to use 3D printers, green screens and Cricuts. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

McKinley STEAM Academy art teacher Molly Sofranko smiles Friday as she holds a teleprompter while filming video on a green screen at the Cedar Rapids Library. The teachers worked together to record a green screen video, create a script, and edit the video as a practice to learn more about the technology. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

McKinley STEAM Academy instructional coach Angela Ptacek, left, and social studies teacher Tim Patience go through the steps Friday of using a Cricuts at the Cedar Rapids library. A Cricuts uses a computer program to cut and draw digital designs. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

McKinley STEAM Academy instructional coach Angela Ptacek, left, and social studies teacher Tim Patience go through the steps Friday of using a Cricuts at the Cedar Rapids library. Teachers used a computer to create a design, then transferred the design to Cricuts to cut out the shape on a piece of paper. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Next year, middle school students will build their own skeletons to learn about the bones of the human body using a 3D printer in a McKinley STEAM Academy wellness class.

So McKinley STEAM Academy Wellness Instructor Ben Torres Duran is learning how to incorporate technology into the school’s maker space — a place for hands-on learning — in his classes.

“Hands-on learning helps kids understand and learn much better than sitting at a desk, listening to a teacher, and doing worksheets,” Torres Duran said. “We could also create models of organs like the heart and the brain, so that when we teach about it, kids have their brains 3D printed that they can take apart.”

Torres Duran participated in a professional learning opportunity earlier this month with about 40 other teachers from McKinley STEAM Academy, 620 10th St. SE in Cedar Rapids, offered by the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

McKinley STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – Academy is a magnet school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District for students in grades six through eight. Magnet schools offer students more hands-on experiences than the traditional school model.

Teachers learned to use:

  • A 3D printer, a method of creating a three-dimensional object layer by layer using a computer-generated design;
  • A Cricut, an electronic cutting machine capable of cutting all kinds of designs from materials such as paper, vinyl, cardstock and iron-on transfers;
  • And “green screen” video technology – being able to record a person or add visual effects in front of a solid color that can be removed and replaced with a different background or images.

The professional learning opportunity was created after library staff heard from several teachers that they were not comfortable using technology and incorporating it into their curriculum.

Ted Olander, magnet coordinator and instructional coach at McKinley, said teachers learn to “connect the tools with the content.”

McKinley launched as a magnet school in the 2019-2020 school year, but plans to fully integrate STEAM into school programming were thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 when schools have been forced to modify learning to slow the spread of the virus, Olander said. .

“All that technology wasn’t really being used,” Olander said. “It’s great to have all of these things, but if teachers don’t have the tools and the equipment to incorporate them into teaching, they’ll just sit on a shelf.”

The school’s partnership with the library “came to the rescue,” Olander said.

Most of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, he said. “When these kids enter the workforce, most of them won’t be doing anything that we have today,” Olander said.

Today, educators are wondering how to design innovative and engaging experiences to help students learn to collaborate, think critically, problem solve, be creative and communicate, Olander said.

Torres Duran finds that students who are traditionally quiet in class are outgoing when it comes to working with technology. They “step in and take charge,” he said.

The professional learning gives her better ideas on how to incorporate available technology into her curriculum. A student project will ask students to “create” a health or medical product and record an infomercial using green-screen technology about how that product works, Torres Duran said.

“Technology is one of the big skill sets kids will need when they graduate from high school and enter the workforce,” said Torres Duran.

Students in Molly Sofranko’s art class are using Cricut this year to design t-shirts, Sofranko said. Working in teams to develop prototypes and present them to the class prepares students for the “real world,” Sofranko said. This technology gives students the opportunity to see themselves in different careers, including skilled labor, IT, arts and engineering, she said.

“This technology translates to many different disciplines,” Sofranko said. “It’s really important that students get excited about it.”

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