Connecting Teachers with Technology: UNCW's CESTEM Builds Educational Community for Southeastern North Carolina

Teachers at CESTEM's Professional Development WorkshopChristopher Gordon loves talking about classroom-assisting technology. The materials and technologies he has to boast about are part of CESTEM's technology loan program, available to any teacher and school system in the state of North Carolina.

Servicing thousands of teachers and students in seven counties, CESTEM helps K-12 students learn with hands-on materials like telescopes, laptops, calculators, robots, and measuring instrumentation. Using CESTEM's services, educators throughout the state are able to use innovative technologies such as the Starlab, a solar telescope, and Lego robots.

Gordon, the Assistant Director of UNCW's Center for Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CESTEM) program tries them out himself. A.C. Hosea, remembers the day they tried out the rocket blaster made from soda bottles and says through laughter, "that was fun."

Fun is exactly what these technologies and instruments can provide. They can also give a valuable and more thorough education to students in North Carolina. Southeastern North Carolina's teachers have the skills it takes to educate their students, but they do not always have the funds or resources necessary to fully prepare students for college. In order to help students and schools in these situations, CESTEM assists with their technology loan program and teacher resource library.

"The point is for them to have the correct information. They've learned how to be teachers, and now they just need the right content," says Hosea.

CESTEM provides free and low-cost services and technologies to teachers and schools that otherwise wouldn't be able to afford or acquire such things. The Starlab, a portable planetarium that is available for use in the classroom, would normally cost $6-7 per student, but CESTEM provides this unique learning resource for a single $30 maintenance fee. With these types of technologies, students can "focus on the experiments and not worry so much about the data," says Gordon; they'll learn by having fun and experiencing new technologies.

CESTEM also plans events such as Science Olympiad, which attracts more than 800 students to UNCW in early March, and the Southeastern Regional Science Fair, which is in early February and boasts a turnout of 155 students. These projects are "both very different, but both very fun," says Gordon. Quite a few students competing at these local events have gone on to the state and national competitions. Students at CESTEM Science Fair

In addition to programs for the students of North Carolina, CESTEM puts together professional development workshops which give educators from around the state a chance to learn about technologies and methods they can use in their classrooms in conjunction with the technologies loaned from the center.

Started in 1991 as the Science and Mathematics Education Center (SMEC), CESTEM has helped thousands of teachers and students Southeastern North Carolina gain access to technology and information in math, engineering and science. They've acquired more than $4 Million worth of grants since their founding, all with a staff of only three to four people. More than 2,800 students and 314 teachers from New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, and Jones counties have used their technology loan program in the last year alone.

Along with the temporary loan items, CESTEM offers permanent loan items such as the Wave Tank. These items are specialized and stay with one professor or teacher. Thanks to a $10,000 grant for technology CESTEM won from Vernier Software and Technology, the program has invested in equipment like heart rate monitors and a force plate. With these new technologies, more and more teachers in North Carolina can use these invaluable items to teach children hands-on lessons.

By Sally J Johnson MFA '14