AWIM STEM Training Equips Teachers in Montana

When the LINKS for Learning Afterschool Program at Livingston Public Schools in Montana needed STEM teacher training, they didn’t have to go far. Throughout the school year, students from Montana State University were already participating in pre-service field experiences at the school—a connection that would lead them to Beth Kennedy and SAE’s A World In Motion® (AWIM®) PreK-8 STEM curriculum.

As it turns out, Beth was not only a Field Supervisor with the pre-service teaching program at Montana State, she was also an experienced AWIM instructor, delivering STEM training for teachers throughout Montana. Once LINKS for Learning was able to review AWIM’s STEM curriculum options, the hardest part was narrowing down their list to just four: Engineering Inspired by Nature, Pinball Designer, Straw Rockets, and Jet Toy.

Hands-on and minds-on STEM experiences are at the core of every AWIM student experience and they’re also a crucial part of every teacher training. On Tuesday morning, Beth led a group of seven teachers through the STEM projects their students would do. Before each activity, she asked them to draw a picture of what they think might happen (which is also a helpful pre-assessment teachers can use with their students). She shared teaching tools including the “noticing, observing, and making connections” framework which helps students develop a mindset of curiosity. She stopped periodically to explore potential open-ended questions that can help students think through potential solutions.

Just like students, the teachers also had to deal with and work through their own frustrations when they weren’t able to figure something out—reminding them just how important it is to stay patient and help coach their students through it. “When teachers see their own frustrations, they quickly realize their students will experience the same thing only much earlier. It’s really important for them to pay attention to each student and provide encouragement before they shut down,” said Kennedy.

At the end of the day, Beth asked the teachers to reflect on their most important takeaways, something they learned, and any questions they may still have. The key themes that emerged: be patient, encourage students to test things over and over and only look at one variable at a time, and to give their students time—not to just rush through the activities.

“Students are used to instant gratification with all of their screen time. They need to learn how to take time to notice and observe things. When we let students figure things out for themselves versus just telling them how to do it, it makes us better teachers,” Kennedy added.

For Beth, the training at the LINKS for Learning Afterschool Program also took on a special personal meaning and a chance for her to come full circle. In the group of seven teachers were two of her former Technology Education Club students at Montana State and one former supervisor—the person that initially got her interested in AWIM through a training for afterschool staff years earlier when Beth was director of the After School Program in Sheridan, Wyoming. Now Beth’s leading her own AWIM training sessions, sharing the PreK-8 STEM curriculum with a new batch of teachers.

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