Twenty K-12 teachers from across the state participated in a four-day STEM seminar at the University of Arizona, testing out technology they designed and built and learning how to translate that to the classroom.
Arizona Project WET, a program of UA Cooperative Extension in the College and Agriculture and Life Sciences, hosted the Underwater Robotics & Engineering Academy. The participating teachers designed and created their own remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. They built the circuits, soldered the boards, calculated buoyancy and participated in a final test at the Student Recreation Center swimming pool.
"The teachers were given a challenge to complete a mission, which is a simulation of what ROVs actually do in the Central Arizona Project canal," said Betsy Wilkening, Arizona Project WET coordinator, who works out of the Water Resources Research Center, a unit of Cooperative Extension.
As part of the challenge, the participants — in teams of two — had 10 minutes to pick up a tree branch, fence post and garbage-can lid and deploy a leak sensor while using their ROV, simulating actual work in the canal.
"ROVs are used in a lot of different places in water applications," Wilkening said. "They're used to go somewhere it's not safe for humans to go. For example, water in the CAP canal is moving at 3,000 cubic feet per second, and you don't want to send a diver in there. Robots can accomplish more than a person can."
Giles Liddell, a counselor from Stanfield Elementary School in Pinal County, said he enjoyed the science focus.
"Anything that deals with science and technology is very important," he said. "If I can get (students) involved in scientific endeavors ... it will help them in life."
Liddell, who said he works in one of the poorer school districts in Arizona, also hoped to bring back what he learned about the robotics aspect of the program.
Other teachers said they learned about translating science and math concepts for students who might find such concepts intimidating.
"I actually got out of my comfort zone when things were not going right," said Joanna Hughes, a K-6 STEM teacher at CTA Independence in the Chandler Unified School District. "I felt frustrated, and I had to take the time to step back. That's really what I'm asking my students to do, to work through something that maybe doesn't come easily."
Her seminar partner, Sia Krog of Sedona, who will be teaching fifth and sixth grades at West Sedona School, agreed.
"Some of the tools we worked with, I've never seen," Krog said. "I’m normally the person who would be the bystander, not actually using the tools. But I was gently pushed out of my comfort zone. It made me think about students whose strengths are not necessarily science and math, and to keep that in mind."
Organizers say the program, sponsored in part by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and facilitated by Arizona Project WET and two instructors from the Marine Advance Technology Education Center, fulfills the mission of UA Cooperative Extension.
"Cooperative Extension is taking science and engineering out into the public, helping people problem-solve and make things better," Wilkening said. "In this particular class, we're doing science technology, engineering and math, and we're building skills with the teachers, so they can take it into their classroom and build those skills with students."