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K-12 Educator Programs

How are we preparing educators to teach the next generation of STEM leaders?

Promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education among K-12 students is vital to keeping meeting the nation’s needs for workers in the STEM fields. The need for students to be inspired to pursue careers in the STEM fields continues to grow, and ORAU is committed to providing the support necessary to improve education, research and innovation.

ORAU has more than 70 years of experience developing and managing STEM education programs that motivate and inspire tomorrow’s scientists and engineers. We also have experience providing leading-edge and innovative education for the teachers who will educate the next generation of STEM leaders.

STEM teachers from Kindergarten through high school, and others interested in the STEM fields, can choose from a number of professional development opportunities provided by ORAU.

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    Engineering is Elementary

    The Engineering is Elementary workshop features curricula that have been tested using rigorous, research-based design principles. The EIE website offers a number of free activities teachers can implement in their classrooms, and these activities can be altered to make them grade-appropriate for students. Jason Jacklet from Heritage Middle School says what he learned in this session will give him ideas to apply in his classroom, which will in turn give his students a taste of what professional scientists and engineers do on a daily basis. 

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    Using Virtual Reality in the Classroom

    Keeping pace with the latest technological advancements is an important component of ORAU’s K-12 STEM educator professional development programming. Teachers had the opportunity to explore virtual reality as it applies to the science classroom using a platform called ClassVR. Jill Schwan, a teacher at Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville said she will be able to give her students the freedom to think about how they can apply the technology in their world today and in the future.

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    Project Wet!

    Our Earth's finite but renewable water resources affect the health and well-being of every person on the planet. That means we must protect, conserve and manage the water we have. This fast-paced class was provided by the non-profit Project Wet! Foundation and correlated to the Common Core Standards. Shawne Myers, teacher at River’s Edge Christian Academy, said the hands-on aspect of the class helped her realize the difficulty students have processing the information they receive when sitting behind a desk.

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    Junior Crime Busters

    A crime has been committed and grade 1-5 students are needed to help solve the mystery. Teachers learned or brushed up on teaching their students some of the same techniques used by crime labs to analyze physical evidence collected at crime scenes or taken from suspects.

    “Kids don’t really see how they will use some of these techniques after school,” says Megan Giordano, a teacher at Steekee Elementary in Loudon County, Tenn. “It shows that they can always grow in what they’re learning and they can always use different techniques outside the classroom.”

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    Colorful and Sweet Chemistry

    In “Colorful and Sweet Chemistry,” teachers learned how to use colors to determine what a substance is, determine when that substance has changed, and determine its strength. On the sweet side, the properties of various types of candies were explored, including acidity, buoyancy and more.

    While these classes sound like fun and games, Giordano says they definitely serve a purpose. “[I have] opportunities to learn and grow as a teacher, especially when we don’t always have science or different engineering and technology programs offered through the district because we focus a lot on math and reading.”

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    Google Earth, Maps, Tours

    ORAU held a workshop to help teachers learn how to bring social studies to life for their middle school students through the use of Google Tours, Maps and Earth. The three-day workshop helped teachers understand how to use the technology properly will teachers pass along what they know to their students.The Google Earth, Maps and Tours workshop attracted teachers from as far away as Memphis.

    “Without this opportunity with ORAU we would not be able to effectively reach a wide variety of teachers. One thing ORAU has allowed us to do is reach a very wide audience,” says Brian Smith, Google professional development instructor.

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    Polymers All Around Us/Super Science Connections

    Dr. Al Hazari, a retired University of Tennessee chemistry professor, led “Polymers All Around Us,” a hands-on workshop exploring the types and the physical and chemical properties of several everyday polymers. In “Super Science Connections” he integrated children's literature, writing, mathematics, art, social studies and health instructions with hands-on science-observing, devising experiments, hypothesizing and drawing conclusions.

Dr. Al Hazari instructing teachers in Polymers All Around Us class

Polymers All Around Us/Super Science Connections

While the content of these educator professional development classes is important, Al Hazari believes the connections among teachers from different background and different types schools is equally important. Hazari, a retired University of Tennessee chemistry professor, loves that the teachers in his classes come from public, private, urban, suburban and country schools.

“To me, just being together in one classroom and sitting next to somebody who is not from the same school or the same district or the same type of school is invaluable because they connect. They say ‘we do this in our school’ or ‘we don’t do this’ or ‘what resources do you have,’ so they start talking, and talking, dialoguing and communicating is very important,” he says.

The role these educators play in create STEM-literate students is critical, he says, adding that resources like ORAU’s educator professional development programs are key to giving additional support to students in the classrooms.

During these sessions, Hazari led “Polymers All Around Us,” a hands-on workshop exploring the types and the physical and chemical properties of serval everyday polymers. In “Super Science Connections” he integrated children's literature, writing, mathematics, art, social studies, and health instructions with hands-on science-observing, devising experiments, hypothesizing and drawing conclusions.

Contact us

For more information about K-12 educator professional development, as well as other classroom opportunities, please contact K12@orau.org.