CLEMSON, S.C. – While the format may have been a little different, the information was just as valuable for the 22 agriscience teachers who attended Clemson University’s STEM it UP 2.0 professional development conference.
STEM it UP 2.0 was held during a time when people across the world were in lockdown because of the COVID-19 virus. But Catherine DiBenedetto, Clemson assistant professor of agricultural education, wanted agriscience teachers to receive valuable information this professional development conference affords.
“I am very passionate about working with teachers to prepare them to be effective instructors in successful school-based agricultural education programs,” DiBenedetto said. “I am focused on providing teachers with professional development opportunities they can use to effectively prepare students with the skills they need to be college and career-ready.”
“The floriculture industry provides numerous concepts that can be applied to STEM learning through inquiry-based instruction.”
During the conference, sponsored by the American Floral Endowment (AFE), teachers learned STEM principles related to the floriculture industry. The teachers, in turn, will share this information with their students. STEM is based on four discipline areas – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Debi Chedester, AFE executive director, said her organization “fully supports” programs such as STEM it UP.
“These programs introduce students and young professionals to the many viable and rewarding career opportunities in floral industry,” Chedester said. “High school is the final stop for students before they continue their education or begin their careers. So, providing high school teachers with data and materials to share with their students will help bring top talent to our industry.”
Learning how to STEM it UP
During the conference, participants were introduced to various experiential learning activities. The teachers were sent a list of materials they would need and documents were shared via a Canvas course management platform.
“Presenting the conference in this format allowed us to reach more teachers,” said Natalie Ferand, an agricultural education and communication graduate student from the University of Florida who helped coordinate the conference.
Receiving the material list and reviewing documents at the beginning of each session allowed the teachers to participate while instructors modeled laboratory investigations using inquiry-based instruction.
One of the teachers was Becky DeShazo, an agricultural sciences teacher and FFA (Future Farmers of America) advisor from Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Texas. She said “this was one of the best workshops I have ever attended,” adding she has been to quite a few.
“Since 1996, I have focused my floral design classes on skills involved in the design process,” DeShazo said. “STEM it UP 2.0 helped me develop my teaching toolbox to include the science involved in floral design. I really believe students can understand the processes better because of the hands-on aspect which I learned from my participation.”
DeShazo said she enjoyed the online format in that it allowed her to set up experiments in her classroom and better understand what she needed to do to make the experiments successful. She believes the online format allowed participants to receive more information than they would’ve received had they attended in-person. In addition, the online format allows teachers to “revisit” what they have learned and build on those STEM concepts. But, the online format does have one drawback.
“An important part of any workshop is building relationships,” DeShazo said. “This was difficult to do virtually. I missed getting to know the other teachers and the presenters better.”
In addition to educating the teachers, the 2020 STEM it UP conference helped educate Clemson student Erica Wearing. Wearing is a junior in the Clemson agricultural education program and a summer intern in the University Professional Internship and Co-op Program (UPIC). She produced videos, provided still images and helped monitor and facilitate Zoom sessions associated with the workshop.
“This truly was a great learning experience,” said Wearing, who first learned of Zoom when classes started being offered via the platform in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “I am happy to be able to learn about different technologies teachers can use while teaching.”
Wearing’s research experience in helping develop and present the STEM it UP 2.0 conference led to her applying for and earning a seat in the Clemson Honors Program.
“Erica is the first agricultural education student to participate in the Honors program,” DiBenedetto said. “We are very proud of her and her accomplishments.”
STEM it UP is an annual conference open to agriscience teachers across the United States. For more information about the Clemson STEM it UP program or the Clemson Agricultural Education Program, contact DiBenedetto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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