Impacts of “Teaching in the Fastlane”

Confucius once said this: “Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.”

For Daniel Loy, a fourth-grade math and science teacher from Beaver Creek Elementary in Johnston, Iowa, what really matters is broadening his student’s minds and opening them up to new ideas.

To do just that, Mr. Loy attended a summer educational workshop hosted by Iowa State University’s Institute for Transportation (InTrans) and the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) called “Teaching in the Fastlane,” which was specifically designed for elementary school teachers.

Mr. Loy was one of 26 attendees who learned how to integrate topics on transportation and engineering into their math and science courses. During the one week workshop, teachers received background knowledge from administrator Lynne Bleeker, visited actual bridge testing sites, heard lectures from Iowa engineers, and participated in various hands-on activities.

The end goal? For these teachers, it was to return to the classroom ready to share the activities and concepts they learned.

But, did they?

A conversation with Daniel Loy

Before attending the workshop, how much did you know about transportation engineering?

Admittedly, not very much! I was generally unaware of how many types and subtypes of engineers there are. It was a truly eye opening experience to learn about how much the field of transportation engineering affects my everyday life.

What did you hope to get out of attending the workshop?

I had been in two previous classes with Lynne Bleeker, and I knew it was going to be a fantastic experience. The two previous courses had focused on plants, biorenewables, and energy, so I figured there might be more of that, with an emphasis on how the transportation industry works with engineers and scientists. As with the previous classes, I also hoped to get the chance to talk with a group of amazing science educators about what ideas they were using in their classes.

What was one of the most interesting things you learned? Or, perhaps, what did you learn that you felt would translate well to your classroom?

The importance of teaching engineering concepts to our students. Not only what engineering is (which I admit I did not really know much about), but also how the engineering process works. It fits very well into the pedagogy that I think we should be using: getting kids to use their hands and their minds to solve problems and ask questions.

Were the field trips beneficial to you? If so, how?

The field trips were fantastic! The trip out to the bridge inspection site was such a neat experience, and I learned so much about how these engineers put their skills to work. The trips up to Iowa State and the Iowa DOT were also fantastic; talking with experts in their field about why what they do is so important.

Please briefly describe your overall experience.

It was great. The class was a good mix of listening to experts, getting insights into what they do and what transportation engineering really is, as well as a chance to actually work on the projects we could introduce to students.

What information you learned/gathered at the workshop did you actually apply to your classroom after returning to school?

It completely changed my focus for the year. I have been a long-time advocate of promoting more science in the elementary classroom, but I admit I had never specifically targeted engineering. This class completely changed my tactics. I set up an active “tinker table” in my class where kids could begin independent projects focused on science and engineering. I also got a “maker kit” space set up and have posted the process of engineering on my walls. Our class motto this year has been the importance of failure, and how it is important to keep going and try new ideas.

How are your students benefiting from what you learned during the workshop?

They frequently refer to themselves as “engineers,” and are constantly involved with the maker kit and tinker table. The whole environment has a focus on problem solving, which I love, and the kids have really gotten into it.

Are there any new topics/projects you are trying to implement into your curricula based on what you learned in the workshop? If so, what?

We teach FOSS units, so I have tried to take some of the lessons in FOSS and turn them into engineering challenges. For instance, with the water unit, they took a few days to figure out how to measure volumes of solid objects using water displacement. I have also worked in maker days and engineering days where the kids have some time to explore the maker kit and design projects.

Why do you think engineering (i.e., transportation engineering) is an important topic for an elementary school classroom?

It is essential that we prepare kids with the ability to think critically to solve the needs and problems of the 21st century. We need inventors, engineers, tinkerers, and thinkers. Engineering is a fantastic way to do this, and the kids absolutely love it. With transportation engineering, it is something that is relevant to their daily lives, and something they can see every day. This makes it instantly relatable.

By Brandy Haenlein, Go! Program Coordinator