Program teaches middle and high school teachers


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Doug Herman heads to work every day as a West High Advanced Placement biology teacher. But instead of preparing science lessons for his students, the Iowa City instructor gets the lesson himself.

Herman is part of the Iowa Math and Science Education Partnership Real World Externship Program. The project, now in its third year, pairs Iowa middle- and high-school mathematics, science, and technology teachers with businesses across Iowa to help them gain outside experiences for the classroom.

"It gives teachers a good opportunity to see what their particular field or concentration of study is all about in the real world," Herman said.

In its first summer in 2009, the program had only 10 teachers and nine businesses, but this year has 50 teachers and more than 30 companies — the largest number of participants compared with previous years.

Funded by a grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Development and a $1.06 million, three-year National Science Foundation grant, the project began as a way to show children how math and science can be used in the real world, said Tonja Richards, the communications specialist for the program.

"[The program] gives [teachers] a little bit of street cred," she said. "Kids have some sort of example of how they might use [science and math]."

The ultimate goal was to bring business and teachers together and help them learn from each other.

"[The program] helps them utilize resources within their community and give teachers some fun ways to earn college credit," Richards said.

Herman takes part in a six-week externship program with the University of Iowa's State Hygienic Laboratory in the UI Research Park in Coralville. During his stint, Herman has worked with many different departments, including limnology — study of life and phenomena in fresh water.

As part of the program, he receives a stipend of $150 a day for roughly eight hours of work, as well as graduate credit through the University of Northern Iowa's Continuing Education Program.

"It's been a wonderful opportunity for me," he said.

Hygienic Lab Director Chris Atchison said the company has been involved with such education programs for years as part of its responsibility is to provide information to the state about health and environmental conditions.

The Iowa Math and Science Education Partnership Real World Externship Program is important for teachers and students alike, he said, because it shows youth a possible career path.

"This is where students are, hopefully, going to practice their careers," he said. "The more teachers can describe to their students where they might go for future careers, the better I think it's going to be."

Herman agreed.

"I find teaching in the Iowa City community a great opportunity," he said. "There are lots of great resources with the university, and the research that goes on in this lab sort of adds to my repertoire."

The program is also a great way to those in the Iowa education system in-state, Atchison said.

"The more we can do to link the education system to the work setting in our state, the better Iowa is going to be as a place to live and maintain a career," he said.

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