SkyTeach Students Present for International Conference
- Saturday, December 19th, 2020
Top: WKU senior Kacie Gaekle; bottom left: WKU senior Morgan Whiticker; bottom right: SKyTeach co-director Martha Day
A global pandemic didn’t stop a WKU SKyTeach research project from reaching a global audience.
WKU senior Kacie Gaekle of Louisville presented the problem-based instruction (PBI) project earlier this month as part of the STEM Conference 2020 in Singapore. The research, conducted by Gaekle and senior Morgan Whiticker of Westmoreland, Tennessee, focused on using PBI in high school biology classrooms as a form of instruction.
The future biology teachers developed and implemented the unit on photosynthesis during their capstone course, SMED 470 Problem-Based Instruction.
“We created a PBI unit about photosynthesis and taught it to a high school biology class at South Warren High School,” said Gaekle, who is majoring in Biology and Science and Math Education. “Upon completing the unit, we were then able to compare the test scores of students involved in the PBI unit and those who were not to see the effects of this type of instruction.”
Gaekle said the results showed a slightly higher average score for the students in three classes who received the PBI unit vs. the students in two classes who did not.
“The classrooms were consistently filled with discussion, cooperative learning, and students who were actively engaged in the lessons,” said Whiticker, who is majoring in Biology and Secondary Education. “That helped us to see that we had met our goal of creating a student-centered unit that allowed for engaging, authentic learning.”
“The unit was so impressive,” said SKyTeach co-director Martha Day, “that I asked if the students would be interested in presenting their work to the STEM community.”
They submitted the project to the STEM Conference in Singapore that specifically targeted problem-based learning. When COVID-19 restrictions prompted the conference’s switch to a virtual format, Gaekle was able to deliver the presentation from her home in Louisville – in the afternoon in Singapore but just after midnight in Kentucky.
“I am intensely proud of Kacie and Morgan for making the extra effort to share their expertise with scientists and mathematicians around the world,” Dr. Day said.
Applied research and problem-based instruction play a key role as SKyTeach students develop into STEM teacher leaders and innovators in the classroom, Dr. Day said.
“One of the things that SKyTeach students do not fully appreciate is that problem-based learning is very innovative and cutting edge in STEM pedagogy,” she said. “Every student in the SKyTeach program develops and pilot teaches a problem-based unit of instruction. To a SKyTeach graduate, problem-based instruction is part of normal teaching practice. Our students learn to teach students 21st century skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving and innovation in STEM, that will benefit them in the world of work.”
Whiticker said creating and implementing the PBI unit has been a highlight of her WKU experience. “This project allowed me to really experience every aspect of teaching,” she said. “I had to plan, teach, reflect and revise along the way, which gave me insight into the career that I had chosen. It only made me more excited to begin my teaching journey.”
Whiticker, who has been student teaching at Allen County-Scottsville High School and plans to teach biology in Kentucky or Tennessee, credits SKyTeach with preparing her for a career in education.
“SKyTeach is easily the best part of my college experience,” she said. “They encouraged us to try new things and look at education from different perspectives. Even during student teaching, I have seen how well this program has prepared me for the real world of education. I am grateful for all that SKyTeach has given me. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to begin a STEM education career.”
The SKyTeach program was a game-changer for Gaekle, who came to WKU planning to major in nursing then switched to pre-med before Science and Math Education. “I have always been interested in biology but I was not always focused on teaching biology,” said Gaekle, who has been student teaching at South Warren High School.
“SKyTeach has made a huge impact on my life at WKU,” she said. “I joined SKyTeach by just taking an entry level education class to try it out. While in SMED 101, I had the opportunity to start teaching in classes in the community. I got to teach a math lesson to a fifth-grade class and I got to help teach a Super Saturday class with other students in the SMED 101 class. From that point I was hooked on teaching and SKyTeach.
“The SKyTeach community is also more of a family and I am so glad I have gotten to be a part of the family.”
For more about SKyTeach, visit https://www.wku.edu/skyteach/
Contact: Dr. Martha Day, firstname.lastname@example.org