Tirupalavanam Ganesh, assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, and Monica Elser, education manager for the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), have teamed up to help bring engineering education to Valley-area middle schools.

Their professional development workshop, “Urban Heat Island: Linking Science, Society and Technology,” recently attracted 24 teachers from Isaac, Camp Verde, Kyrene, Mesa, Deer Valley and Chandler school districts.

Designed for teachers from a wide range of disciplines including social studies and language arts, the workshop shows them how to teach about an urban sustainability issue incorporating concepts from natural sciences, social sciences and engineering.

“We are developing a professional development model that encourages integrated curricular units where science, engineering technology, language arts and social studies can be integrated around a theme and also allows teachers the freedom to customize learning for their students,” says Ganesh.

During the seminar, teachers are presented with three sets of lessons on same theme of the interaction of man and the environment: What is the urban heat island?  How does the urban heat island impact organisms and people?  How can we mitigate the impact of the urban heat island?

The goal is to make science relevant for both teachers and students by encouraging them to connect with their urban setting.

Elser says, “We want teachers and their students to take a look around their neighborhoods and ask questions about how the changes we make impact them and the organisms that share our urban ecosystem.  Can they make small changes that create a more livable city?”

The program also brings ASU research into the community. All of the lessons are based on core research initiatives from both Fulton Engineering and GIOS. Middle school teachers are given tools such as thermal images that help illustrate the effects of urbanization.

Teachers in the program will implement one or more of the lessons into their curriculum then report results on September 24. They will also receive a stipend of $400 for taking part in the program.

“Traditionally, there is little follow-up with teachers who attend professional development efforts with regard to classroom implementation of new curricula,” says Ganesh. “We want to be clear on the performance objectives of this initiative, getting teachers to focus on two to three relevant learning goals that they have for their students, support them with lesson plans, assessments and other resources needed for classroom implementation.”

Participants will report on changes they made to the provided lesson plans, assessments of the program, reporting on how the implementation went, what the children and teachers learned and whether their goals were accomplished.

Ganesh, who was recently named senior sustainability scientist for GIOS, and Elser have collaborated on similar projects in the past. The Urban Heat Island professional development workshop is a small-scale effort in preparation for potentially larger scale implementation.

Funding for the effort comes from the Central Arizona—Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) Project  and the research project Urban Vulnerability to Climate Change, both funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Sharon Harlan is the principal investigator on the Urban Vulnerability to Climate Change project. Curricula for the professional development workshop were co-developed with funding from Ganesh’s Learning through Engineering Design and Practice project, which is also funded by the NSF.

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