SAVANNAH, Ga. – The school year continued for 15 educators who returned to the classroom to unearth ways to bring curriculum to life during the CSS Georgia Teacher’s Institute held May 31 – June 3 at Georgia Tech Savannah.
The four-day workshop offered a fresh take on CSS Georgia discoveries and other STEM-related topics (science, technology, engineering and math) to teachers of Chatham, Bryan, Liberty and Effingham county school districts.
Participants learned about the Georgia’s recovery efforts and their effect on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project through classroom instruction, interactive activities and a tour of Old Fort Jackson and the wreck site. The once stagnant “iron tub” now maneuvers as a local and historical resource for Savannah-area teachers who will incorporate lessons-learned into future STEM lesson plans. These lesson plans will be available through the Savannah District’s website and the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, said Dr. Carolyn Perry, program director at Georgia Tech Savannah’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing.
“We hope they can bring relevant and rigorous STEM lesson planning into their own classrooms with students,” Perry said.
The forum also increased participants’ understanding of how the shipwreck integrates into Civil War economics of the time, and the processes underway to preserve artifacts and document information for posterity, said Rita Elliott, a public outreach specialist with Gulf Engineering and Consultants.
The institute follows in the tracks of previous outreach efforts such as the Raise the Wreck Festival and a public lecture. Each event shared findings of the shipwreck and allowed participants to interact with the experts responsible for resurrecting and preserving the vessel. However, the workshop’s exclusivity to teachers was designed to target influencers with the capacity to reach multitudes of developing minds, Elliott said.
“Educators can reach hundreds of students every year, and often, they teach for many years so it’s pluralizing because they can reach many more people with the information,” Elliott said.
Although the shipwreck propels a vehicle for STEM education, it can also be studied in disciplines unrelated to STEM, Elliott said.
“It lends itself very well to English and language arts, history and a host of other topics that teachers have to teach anyway,” she said.
Teachers like Theresa Luciano, an Engineering and Robotics teacher at Oglethorpe Charter School, said she would like to incorporate other subjects, such as social studies, into STEM studies. She said she’ll do this by finding a problem in the region students are studying, assigning a project and requiring students to research and write reports of their findings at the conclusion.
Though Luciano said she was drawn to the versatility of subjects covered at the institute, she connected most to topics related to underwater archaeology, a unit she teaches to her middle school students. Many of her students have hands-on experience handling remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that use sonar technology to detect areas underwater and tether to stations above ground for remote operability. Similar technology was used by divers with marine archeology expertise to map the CSS Georgia wreck site.
Convenient access to the historic site also appealed to her, she said.
“I see so many opportunities for field trips so the children can come out [to Old Fort Jackson] to see what’s going on locally using STEM,” Luciano said. “Seeing what some of their ideas are with pulling things up from the water and how their solutions compare with officials who raised the vessel will be interesting.”
Rose Talbert, a ninth-grade biology teacher at the recently STEM certified program at Jenkins High School, echoed Luciano’s sentiments.
“I wanted to find ways to add a local flavor to STEM topics,” Talbert said. “Many of our teachers have not been to Old Fort Jackson … and it’s right here in our backyard. It will definitely enrich STEM lessons.”
The institute precursors a traveling teaching trunk to begin development in fall 2016. The trunk will contain lesson plans and 3-D objects and materials to engage students in learning select mandated Georgia Performance standards, Common Core Georgia Performance standards and Next Generation standards. The self-contained unit will focus on the CSS Georgia project and aid teachers with no prior background or experience.
Participants will return in July to reveal lesson plans that are expected to serve as valuable resources for other local educators and educators to come, Perry said.
“The ripple effect will be the online resources that will be available long after the week is completed,” she said.