Cincinnati Teachers Spend Their Summer as Students

By: Liz Daubenmire

Cincinnati math and science teachers from 14 school districts spend their summer in the classroom gaining valuable insights in how to encourage their students through the CEEMS Project.

When the final school bell rings announcing summer’s sweet start, most teachers look forward to a relaxing three months ahead.  Summer is a time for vacations, room to breathe, and a little TLC.  After a long academic year teachers need to recharge, read a few books, and most of all enjoy the quiet.

Our city, however, has a unique group of dedicated educators who do just the opposite.  14 school districts in the Cincinnati area participate in a program called CEEMS (Cincinnati Engineering Enhanced Mathematics and Science Program).  The program is part of the University of Cincinnati and has been made possible by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Its mission is to equip middle and high school science and math teachers with better strategies to engage students in math and science through engineering challenges. 

Math and science are often difficult subjects to teach.  Engaging middle and high school students is challenging due to the “when will I ever use this” mentality.  CEEMS is working hard to change that attitude.  Through challenge-based learning, CEEMS hopes to broaden the techniques of teaching STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education and show its real- world applications before students head off to college.

CEEMS teachers testing their projects

CEEMS teachers testing their projects

CEEMS Course: Applications of Technology

Middle and high school teachers from all over the city trickle into the Victory Parkway classroom for their third day of Applications of Technology.  This is their second year in the CEEMS Program so they know what lies ahead.  The veterans slowly sip their coffee as they settle into their seats.  Tired conversations of yesterday’s assignments quietly pick up until the entire room is buzzing.

In walks professor, Janak Dave, who teaches mechanical engineering at the University of Cincinnati.  He is cheerful and alert as he sets up for the days lecture.  Around 9:05 the class begins discussing the Engineering Design Process.  Professor Dave teaches everything from basic short cuts on Google Scholar, to potential activities the teachers can reenact with their students. 

The engineering professor carefully connects the dots between engineering and secondary math and science classes.  Each engineering problem is tailored to fit within the 7th- 12th grade classrooms.  This seamless connection subtly prepares students to think like engineers.

Classmates James and Beth work together to project

Classmates James and Beth work together to project

Following a day lecture, the class prepares for an activity.  Teachers are divided into groups and assigned their task.  The groups spread out across the room and spill into the hallway. The mission at hand: build a structure, using only paper, cups, and straws that can guide a ping pong ball to the ground at the slowest speed.  In the blink of an eye the room fills with competition and slight chaos.  The challenge is refreshing after a day of lecture.  Teams huddle together and design strategic plans to win first place. 

In the CEEMS classroom the teachers are stripped of their titles.  Middle school or high school, math or science, tenure or not tenure, (west side or east side): the teachers work as one unit without distinguishing themselves. 

When the time comes to test their contraptions, each team carefully analyzes other’s designs.  They learn from other’s mistakes and praise each other for their successes. 

The next week of class brings more activities.  In the same groups as before, the teachers repeat their huddles and try harder for a spot at first place.  They research, they build, they collaborate.  With each assignment, conversations revolve around ways they plan to use these activates in their own classrooms.  Not a second of the day goes by without thinking of their students and the impact this new training will have.

The winning group test their ping pong ramp

The winning group test their ping pong ramp

On the final day of class each teacher presents a lesson plan in their respective subjects. 19 teachers share their plans to engage their students with fun, interactive projects.  They discuss their experience from the year before and share how they plan to improve the implementation of CEEMS units. 

This group of teachers is truly remarkable.  Not only do they dedicate themselves back to the classroom for seven longs weeks of their summer, but they do so with joy, knowing their students with reap the benefits. 

Each CEEMS cohort goes through two years of training.  As this group continues with their final classes, they look forward to the Closing Day Showcase on August 1st.  Their efforts culminate into one event which gives them a chance to display their hard work and move into the academic year with a clear plan and readiness to impact their students.