Over the summer, sixteen teachers from LMSD's Elementary STEM Cohort II traveled near and far to study socio-scientific issues as part of the District's STEM partnership with Arcadia University. Of the LMSD teachers, ten traveled to Italy, while three were exposed to similar issues and contexts state-side. The trips provided rich opportunities to introduce teachers to the synergistic and symbiotic relationships between society and the environment. Teachers compared and contrasted the role of environments in the evolution of STEM fields, industries and green technologies, both in local and global contexts. Sicily Center for International Education facilitated the study abroad trip and Dr. Augusto Macalalag, Assistant Professor of STEM Education at Arcadia University, accompanied the teachers to Italy.
Locally, teachers engaged in adventures in Lower Merion with a hands-on workshop presented by Project Wild focusing on experiencing ways to connect students with the wonders of the outdoors to not only meet content standards, but to learn to appreciate the complex, natural beauty that surrounds us. Historic Bartram's Garden served as the perfect spot to discover local ecology and explore urban watershed issues.
Additionally, teachers visited a Wastewater Treatment Plant in Philadelphia. They enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility and saw how the city cleans the millions of gallons of water brought to the plant by an elaborate sewer system. They also learned about the history of the wastewater treatment process in the city and got a glimpse into what future treatment options may include. A second stop in Philadelphia provided educators with an opportunity to explore the Fairmount Water Works, a National Historic Landmark nestled between the Philadelphia Art Museum and Boathouse Row. Here, they saw how the early inhabitants of Philadelphia harnessed the power of the Schuylkill River and how the watershed landscape of the Philadelphia region has dramatically changed over the years.
One of the first stops for those studying abroad was a visit to Mt. Etna on the eastern coast of Sicily. With an Italian volcanologist, they explored this active volcano, completed terrestrial field studies and conducted a rock, soil, and vegetation investigation. They also discovered the socio-cultural and economic impact and benefits of the volcano.
The field study in Italy also included a trip to the Archimede Solar Energy Plant where they learned about Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems which produce electricity in a similar way to conventional power stations, using steam to drive a turbine. The difference is that the energy comes from solar radiation; it does not contribute to climate change and uses the sun as an infinite power supplier. The teachers also toured the Anapo Hydroelectric Pump Storage Plant and reservoirs, located in the town of Priola, where they learned from a site engineer about thermoelectric power plants, which are kept operational almost constantly.
In addition to new knowledge about renewable energy sourcing, members of the cohort had the opportunity to explore architecture and marine life. The teachers spent a day on a guided Roman architecture tour that focused on engineering, canal systems and the Amphitheatre, which included the entrance to the Neapolis Archaeological Area. The teachers focused on coastal marine preservation during a visit to the Marina Protetta del Plemmirio, which offered a spectacular dive into marine life, brimming with sea fishes and other species. A local Italian marine biologist shared information about efforts to maintain healthy coastal areas.
During the course of this school year, and for years to come, the students of Lower Merion School District will certainly benefit from the awe-inspiring field experiences afforded to the teachers in the past and present STEM cohorts. The opportunities to travel and learn, both in Philadelphia and in Italy, will bring the STEM and socio-scientific issues explored to life for the children in their classrooms. The leadership roles taken on by the cohort teachers will also extend their learning to their colleagues and will foster a greater understanding of socio-scientific issues and STEM in the world around us!
To view a short slideshow of pictures from the field experiences this summer, click on the image below.