Vol. 4, No. 7
July 2012

Teachers swap summer plans for externships

Ah, summertime. Time for teachers to take a break from the rigors of the classroom, relax, recharge and ... become externs? Fifty-six Iowa teachers traded their summer plans for the Real World Externship program that gives them practical applications in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to take back to their classrooms. The State Hygienic Lab is hosting two externs in the six-week program coordinated by the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership (IMSEP).

Alison Gilchrist pours total Kjeldahl nitrogen/total phosphorus samples after the digestion process.

Alison Gilchrist, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Cecelia Elementary School in Ames with a passion for science, is shadowing Hygienic Lab staff members in Ankeny. She observed the Newborn Screening staff process blood spots, watched the Environmental Health group test for metals in water and shadowed the Radiation Response team as they prepared for a drill.

"I'm excited that I'm going to see real world problems at the lab that I can then take back to my students," she said. "Whenever I'm able to share something with them, that this is what it's really like outside of the classroom, that's when they get excited and motivated and really involved in their science and their math."

Gilchrist has been involved with STEM education since her studies at the University of Northern Iowa and was one of the original members of the Governor's Council. She hopes that her expertise in curriculum development can aid the Hygienic Lab in its educational outreach programs.

Jay Fetzer, a biology and general science teacher at North Cedar High School in Stanwood, is wrapping up an externship based at the Hygienic Lab in Coralville. He observed scientists test drinking water in Environmental Microbiology and collect samples of aquatic life and stream water in Iowa waterways with Liminology. He alsoexperienced what it's like to work in many sections of the state public health laboratory.

"I really liked Serology where they tested for so many diseases: HIV, syphilis, Rocky Mountain fever, TB," he said.

Jay Fetzer (left) discusses the process of testing water quality with John Kempf, environmental lab specialist.
Part of the extern training is to chronicle experiences in a weekly blog and to create a lesson plan for one class drawing from the Lab experiences. Though he hasn't decided on his lesson plan, Fetzer's most recent blog entry checks off how the Hygienic Laboratory experience meets the eight essential concepts and/or skills of the Iowa Core's (Curriculum) Inquiry Standards, from "identifying questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations" to "using mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry."

"I foresee using [this] knowledge in a new science course our high school will be offering called 'Foundations of Science.'"

Gilchrist's blog highlights the insights she has gained on applying quality assurance in the Lab as well as in life.

"In their daily lives, my students are constantly bombarded with immediate feedback," Gilchrist reported in her blog. "Video games, Twitter, online shopping, texting, and Facebook all provide a constant stream of information that updates them on their performance. Using quality control standards would also provide them (and me) with immediate feedback on their performance. If they are not able to meet the standard, I want them to problem solve and determine the reason for the discrepancy."

IMSEP is a program of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council in conjunction with the Iowa inter-university STEM initiative.