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Summer research program for teachers focuses on research training in sustainable electronics

August 08, 2018

Contact: Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Teacher and pupil work together on projectTuskegee University was one of two host sites for a six-week summer research training program in sustainable electronics. The outreach program took place in June and July and was designed for 33 high school teachers across Alabama and Indiana.

Throughout the last three years, the “Research Experience for Teachers” (RET) has provided professional development to STEM teachers throughout the Alabama Black Belt region. The program provides teachers with the opportunity to leverage their expertise in engineering while learning about sustainable electronics and their impact on our environment.

Each year, high school STEM teachers are selected throughout Alabama to participate in summer a research training. Because the RET partnership includes Purdue University, teachers attending either institution’s training program can choose the campus –– Tuskegee or Purdue — at which they will participate.

The summer research program is part of grant funded by the National Science Foundation. It is designed to provide funds directly to the teachers’ classrooms to develop high school curricula that can be used to educate students on the concept of electronic waste and to increase their interests in pursuing STEM-related degrees.

“The RET program is by far the most productive program for science teachers because it provides time for them to think critically about real-world issues and to tailor lessons that specifically meet the needs of their students,” explained Dr. Michael Curry, who oversees Tuskegee’s component of the program, and who is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.

According to Curry, electronic waste is a global issue and is an enormous problem.

“More than 20 million tons of e-waste are produced every year, and these electronics typically end up in landfills or in the backyards of third-world countries — which allows toxic chemicals like lead, mercury and cadmium to leach into the soil and water,” he explained.

“A program like this, where research leads to the development of educational materials to be implemented into our classrooms, is a must-need if we’re going to fix the electronic waste problem,” Curry continued.

Throughout the program, teachers interacted with research experts in various areas of chemistry, materials science and environmental science.

In addition, teachers underwent a series of other professional development activities, including training from members of the Industrial Advisory Board in research methods and ethics, best practices for teaching engineering, and sustainability concepts in engineering contexts. Teachers also attend weekly sessions via teleconference as an entire group to develop, share and discuss approaches for integrating their research experiences and outcomes into the high school curricula.

Upon return to the classroom, teachers will be able to develop curricula based on their research projects under the sustainability in electronic concept that can be used to educate students, not only in their high school classrooms but in high school classrooms across the globe.

“This program has been one the most stimulating and informative program I have ever been a part of,” Curry noted. “It brought awareness to issues that most people commonly dismiss due to lack of public information.”

The Purdue component of the Research Experience for Teachers program is under the direction of Dr. Inez Hua, a professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering.

For more information on the annual RET summer program visit https://engineering.purdue.edu/EEE/Research/RET/Years/2018.

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