Another STEM Link Between DMPS and ISU

Students at the Downtown School participate in Trinect, a partnership between DMPS and Iowa State University.

Students at the Downtown School participate in Trinect, a partnership between DMPS and Iowa State University.

Always a busy hub of the district, 1800 Grand Avenue was especially so on Thursday morning. Besides the whir of the usual academic industry at Central Academy and Central Campus, the Downtown School was the site of an “Engineering & Design Expo” in connection with an exciting new aspect of the district’s relationship with Iowa State University.

The Trinect pilot project is a partnership between DMPS and ISU’s School of Education, College of Engineering and Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) aimed at better equipping elementary teachers for STEM instruction. Ten “triads” of ISU student teachers and graduate engineering students are in DMPS classrooms thanks to a $4.5 million, five-year National Science Foundation grant. Besides the Downtown School, Garton, Jefferson, Samuelson, Studebaker and South Union are also involved this semester.

The triad at Downtown includes Jordan Tiarks; a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering who visits once each week, Mathew Morris; an elementary education student on his student teaching assignment, and Jennifer Mann; a 4th-5th grade teacher at the Downtown School. The Trinect triad has been working with students over the course of the fall semester to enhance their understanding of the engineering design process with a focus on the scientific concepts of magnetism and electricity.

Thursday’s event married the Downtown School model of unit culminating events with ISU’s of design/trade show “expos” where engineers demonstrate their solutions to problems brought to them by private sector clients.

Mann’s students were divvied into small groups and assigned “clients” of their own. For instance, Charlie’s, Cal’s, Grayson’s and Ned’s client was DT principal Stephanie Flickinger whose husband likes to go “extreme camping” in the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. She worries about him on extended trips so the boys developed a crank generator for him to take along when he goes off the grid.

Teacher Teri Arbogast has a sister who has an English bulldog, a breed that has difficulty staying hydrated in extreme heat. So Elena, Kristal, Lilly and Mike developed a prototype for an alarm that goes off when a dog’s water dish is empty, sort of like an English gent might ring for a servant when he’s thirsty for tea.

Mike was pretty sure before this project that he has the curiosity of a scientist. And now that he’s got some hand-on experience in solving a practical conundrum? “Now I know that I really do like science!” he said, obviously overjoyed by his personal discovery.

Besides the steady parade of parents and other onlookers through the expo, the DMPS principals moved their weekly meeting so they could stroll the exhibits and pick the brains of all concerned for applicability to their own schools.

Mann has been challenged and enriched by her involvement with Trinect.

“I feel like I’ve grown more this semester than ever before,” she said, this from a 17-year veteran. “Jordan, our grad engineering student, has been wonderful in showing Mathew and I how to make complex design principles teachable to 9-10 year-olds and the kids are loving this instruction.”

Joanne Olson is a professor in the ISU School of Education and she is equally pleased with how Trinect is working so far from the university’s perspective.

“This is not necessarily a top-down program,” she said. “Each of the ten triads has flexibility to adapt their methods to fit their particular classroom situation. We think Trinect is showing great potential to benefit all stakeholders.”

Including parched pooches and worried wives of extreme campers.

Video of Trinect Partnership – DMPS-TV News

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