Teacher In-Service Program Celebrates 10th Year

IEEE program has reached more than 460 000 students

20 August 2012

How do you inspire students to become engineers? One way is to help their teachers learn fun and exciting ways to incorporate science and technology into classes. The IEEE Teacher In-Service Program (TISP) has been doing just that for the past 10 years. The program teaches IEEE volunteers around the world how to teach the teachers—to demonstrate to preuniversity educators how to apply engineering, science, and math concepts in their classrooms.

To date, TISP has organized 25 workshops, reaching more than 2200 volunteers in all 10 IEEE sections. Those volunteers in turn have given nearly 175 professional development presentations to more than 4200 educators, who have taught IEEE-developed lesson plans to an estimated 460 000 students. Lessons have involved, for example, harnessing wind energy; building a robot arm; testing the strength of a team-designed watercraft; building weight-bearing structures from plastic straws and playing cards; and designing a better candy bag.

“We want students to get excited about engineering,” says Lynn Bowlby, TISP project administrator for IEEE Educational Activities (IEEE-EA). “We’re thrilled to be putting these resources into a program reaching so many students.”

The first TISP workshop was held in February 2001 at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. Back then the concept for TISP was a little different, with the program educating teachers directly. IEEE-EA staff members quickly realized that approach could never reach enough teachers. Instead, they began enlisting volunteers—dubbed TISP champions—to attend workshops and then go back into their communities and teach teachers.

“This process empowers the champions to develop collaborations with their local preuniversity education communities and ultimately reach a greater number of students,” Bowlby says.

TISP now organizes four such workshops each year in any IEEE section that expresses an interest. The day-and-a-half events include two to four hands-on demonstrations of activities from the nearly 100 lesson plans available on TryEngineering.org. The website—aimed at students, their parents, and teachers—features information on what it takes to become an engineer, including lesson plans for teachers and games that demonstrate what engineers do.

“We try to map our lesson plans to the needs of local teachers so they can take the activities into their classrooms in a way that fits with their state’s or country’s curriculum,” Bowlby says.

The lesson plans take into account tight education budgets and limited supplies, so they can be used almost anywhere. “Educators don’t often have the funds to buy expensive materials,” Bowlby says, “so the majority of lesson plans call for materials that are easy to obtain and inexpensive.” For example, one of the most popular plans, “Working with Wind Energy,” requires only cardboard, rubber bands, and paper clips.

Teachers who attend presentations given by TISP champions may use the events to meet professional development requirements required by many school districts. Getting a presentation approved for professional development credit can take some effort, but maybe not as much as you’d think, says IEEE Life Member Freddie Wong, a retiree and a member of the IEEE Houston Section Student Activities Committee.

“We were told to go to the Texas Education Authority to get approval for our program, and the teachers warned us it would probably take a year or two,” Wong says. “Instead, it took four days.”

Since 2008, Wong and his fellow volunteers have trained more than 400 teachers in the Houston metropolitan area. He says that, on average, each teacher then takes the TISP lessons back to about 80 students each year.

The largest TISP workshop to date was held in April 2011 in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The workshop attracted more than 200 IEEE volunteers, local preuniversity educators and Ministry of Education representatives. An event held that same month in Hyderabad, India, drew more than 100 champions, who have since gone on to make at least 10 presentations to groups of teachers.

Future workshops are scheduled to be held in Australia, Canada, Honduras, and Spain. “Canada has a very strong TISP committee that has been running many local events,” Bowlby says. She notes that Region 9 also has a particularly robust committee of TISP champions. “We rely heavily on our champions,” she says. “We could not successfully run a workshop without the local volunteers’ help in planning and promoting the event.”

Wong suggests that anyone interested in becoming a TISP champion get involved with the local section. “The program requires members who have a passion for education,” he says.

To celebrate TISP’s anniversary, the program returned in May to the site in Tampa of its very first meeting. Forty-seven TISP champions from 12 countries, representing nine IEEE regions and 21 IEEE sections, attended the symposium. Funding was provided by the IEEE Foundation.

“The TISP champions were able to meet each other and trade stories about their personal experiences with the program,” Bowlby says. Also attending were more than a dozen preuniversity educators, who added their TISP perspectives to the discussion. “It was a rare opportunity for them all to sit down and talk and learn from each other,” Bowlby says.

The symposium also featured some productive brainstorming, says Wong, who chaired the event. “We came up with about 15 different topics that IEEE can further develop into new lesson plans,” he says.

By the end of TISP’s 11th year, organizers hope to have reached a half million students with its lessons.

“That will be extremely satisfying,” Bowlby says. “Reaching these students and getting them to think about studying engineering is the reason we’re here.”

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