AMSTI institute promotes fun learning

More than 600 Alabama math and science teachers are using the halls and classrooms of Oak Mountain Middle School this week to build and race propeller-driven vehicles, cultivate butterfly larvae and solve algebraic equations during the fourth-annual Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative Summer Institute.

The two-week institute, hosted by the University of Montevallo AMSTI office, equips teachers with the resources they need to make their subjects more relatable and engaging, said Deb O’Hara, director of UM’s AMSTI office.

“We provide hands-on activities for teachers to use when they go back to their classrooms, and our math and science specialists who are veteran classroom teachers go in to the schools and work with the teachers for implementation,” O’Hara said.

Activities at the institute range from using rubber bands to form triangles on a geometry board to making craters on a planet surface made of layers of cocoa powder, flour and sand.

Sixth-grade science teachers Denise Gonzales of Chelsea Middle, Kristen Stallings of Chelsea Middle, Marcia Murrah of Columbiana Middle and Kevin Pughsley of Calera Middle spent the morning dropping a small steel marble into the simulated planet surface, and measuring the crater produced by the impact.

“It’s great to experiment before the kids do it because we have a lot of fun,” Pughsley said. “And we know when the kids actually get their hands on it, it will be 10 times as fun.”

Across the hall, Renee Adams, an AMSTI specialist from Marshall County, trained a small group of seventh-grade science teachers on caring for butterfly eggs and studying their methamorphosis into butterflies.

The lighthouse kits used to raise the butterflies cost about $8,000, but through AMSTI, the kits are available to the teachers free of cost.

Activity kits used at the institute are placed in plastic crates for teachers to take back to their classrooms. O’Hara said the benefits of hands-on learning is evident in both teachers and students’ heightened enthusiasm.

“The students are more excited, more involved and have better attitudes about math and science,” O’Hara said. They say, ‘This is the first year I ever liked math’ or, ‘This is the first year I ever liked science.’

The AMSTI institute concludes Friday.