Poland teacher attends STEM Academy

Being a teacher may be a second career for Jill Marconi, but it is one she takes very seriously.

Marconi, an 8th-grade science teacher at Poland Middle School, was one of 50 educators chosen nationwide to attend the Siemens STEM Institute in Washington, D.C. last month. The Siemens STEM Institute is part of the Siemens STEM Academy, a premier online professional development community for STEM educators empowering and celebrating excellence in STEM education.

The five-day, all-expense paid fellowship is designed to promote hands-on, real-world integration of STEM disciplines in the classroom, which helps educators to get their students excited about STEM education and careers. The Siemens STEM Academy is a collaborative effort of the Siemens Foundation, Discovery Education, Oak Ridge Associated Universities and the College Board.

Lyndsey Grubbs, publicity assistant for Discovery Communications, said nearly 1,000 applications were received and this was the fourth year for the Siemens STEM Institute. She said applicants must submit two essays, a video and a recommendation, and be full-time teachers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics for grades 6 to 12. A selection committee then reviews the applications and chooses 50 educators to participate.

Marconi was one of three teachers chosen from Ohio, but the only one from this area. In 2011, Liberty High School teacher Joe Slifka was chosen as a STEM Institute fellow.

Marconi is in her sixth year of teaching at Poland Middle School after working for Alltel Communications before it closed. She said the job loss prompted her to go back to college despite being in her 40s and she earned a degree in education with an emphasis on science and math. She graduated from Youngstown State University in 2006.

“I made a conscious decision to be a teacher. I know this country is in need of people in the STEM fields because for so long, teaching was focused on language arts and math. I loved math and science as a student and I wanted to see if I could get other students to like it,” Marconi said.

Her love of science is a family trait. Her husband works for Aqua America and their son is a sophomore majoring in engineering at the Rose-Hulman Institute, one of the top engineering schools in the country.

“My husband and son have built hovercrafts in the basement and they are always doing scientific experiments. I tell them all the time ‘don’t blow up the house’,” Marconi said.

She said she heard about the STEM Institute because the Poland Local School District participates in a program called Discovery Education, which sent an email about it. She said she was accepted into the program, which took place the week of Aug. 4 at the world headquarters of Discovery Communications, which is the the parent company of Discovery Education, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and Animal Planet.

Marconi said she has always tried to combine lecturing with hands-on learning in her classroom, but attending the Siemens STEM Institute re-enforced that combination.

“One speaker told us ‘you can’t have the knowledge without the doing.’ So I would like to increase the amount of hands-on learning in my class,” she said.

As part of the teachers’ commitment to the STEM Institute, they are required to do a project. Marconi said she is applying for grants to purchase four Microsoft Surface tablets so her students can create science lesson videos. Her class is partnering with the 4th-grade science class at Poland Union Elementary School, so the 8th graders will create videos aimed at that grade level.

Marconi said the lessons will be 10 minutes each and cover a variety of topics.

“It has been said that teaching is the greatest form of learning, so I am trying to take that concept and adapt it to my class,” she said.

Marconi also said the Institute helped her connect with 49 other Siemens fellows from around the country and they communicate through Twitter, exchanging ideas and planning collaborative projects.

“This was a wonderful opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone. The number one thing I took away from this program is that there is support out there for science teachers who want to try new things. I work with wonderful teachers at Poland, but they have their own lesson plans to worry about. Through this experience, I am able to connect with teachers who enjoy teaching science as much as I do,” Marconi said.

As part of the fellowship, participants also visited leading institutions of STEM innovation and met with practicing experts in the field, including members of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Chief of Museum and Learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Fellows also received a behind the scenes green building tour by BCI Building Operations.

“These hands-on experiences introduced the fellows to real-world STEM applications and provided opportunities for networking and collaboration with peers from across the nation,” Grubbs said in a news release.

Applications for the 2014 program will start being accepted soon and the selection process will begin in December.

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