Baylor Summer Science Institute giving educators new ways to teach old lessons

All are designed to get elementary and middle school students excited about science and STEM careers

The classroom at Herod Elementary School didn’t have any ring stands available, but that didn’t stop the seventh-grade science teachers in it from completing their experiment on heat and energy at the Baylor Summer Science Institute.

The two-week event, which concludes on July 25, focuses on giving elementary and middle school teachers creative ways to deliver lessons on familiar subjects. And participants displayed that same spirit of ingenuity this year in assembling an acceptable substitute for that basic piece of lab equipment—made from a wet cork, some tin foil, and a coat hanger.

“The tin foil protects the table from the flame, the coat hanger gives us a hook to hang something from above it, and the cork was soaked in water to keep it from burning,” explained one participant.

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“The goal is to take teachers through hands-on science activities so they can teach content at a deeper level,” said Barbara Tharp, assistant director of the Center for Educational Outreach at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s really powerful for the teachers.”

Najma Bano, an eighth-grade teacher at Lanier Middle School who has been to the Institute twice, said she was most excited by the simplicity of the activities being demonstrated.

“Sometimes (at these types of events), you learn a lot of activities, but you can’t really use them,” she said. “All of these are quick, small, and use very few resources.”

“It’s amazing what you can do with a cup of water, a little wax paper, and some food coloring,” added Trent Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary School. “I cannot wait to use this in the classroom. This is what science should be. It gives you a creative spin on what you’re already doing. And if you’re excited about it, your students will be excited about it.”

The Institute is designed to build students’ interest in science and connect what they’re learning in the classroom with possible careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. More than 300 HISD teachers participated in the event this summer, which is now in its 21st year.