PITTSFIELD -- There's a disconnect between students and their interest to study and ability to secure careers in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
This past week, a dozen STEM educators from area public and private high schools took part in a week-long seminar, "Industry, Innovation, and Inquiry: Bringing the Science of Berkshire Innovators into the Classroom," presented by the statewide nonprofit Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS).
The teachers took classes and workshops based at the Berkshire Museum and also visited STEM-focused employers and sites in the Berkshires, like Sabic, General Dynamics, the Housatonic River Walk, Chamberlain Industries, as well as the Samson Environmental Center at the Darrow School in New Lebanon, N.Y.
While meeting with employees and interpreters, the teachers asked them questions that their students might: What work do you do? How did you get interested in this kind of work? How do I get a job in this field?
"There's not a whole lot out there that gives students an idea of what's in the STEM workforce," said Meghan Bone, Berkshire Museum's school and teacher program specialist and site coordinator for the Berkshire MITS region.
While Berkshire Museum has previously hosted MITS summer training programs for elementary and middle school teachers, Bone said there has been a demand for professional development programs for high school teachers.
"That's why I'm here, to make that connection," said Ed Eckel, a physics teacher at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield. "I know there are a lot of connections locally, but this is helping us to find those resources," he said.
Earlier in the week, Eckel teamed up for a project with program participants, Pittsfield teacher Donna Hitchcock and Lois Moulton, a ninth-grade biology teacher at Eaglebrook School in Deerfield.
On Tuesday, the MITS group visited General Dynamics and learned how gyroscopes are used as key components of missile control and guidance systems.
Back at Berkshire Museum, instructor leader Miles Wheat, a science teacher and assistant principal at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams, challenged the group to create interactive museum exhibits for students, based on the science of gyroscopes.
Working in groups, just as their students might in a classroom, the teachers brainstormed ideas and demonstrations to drive home lessons in physics, history and applied science.
"Our goal is to give teachers hands-on experience in teaching experiential, inquiry-based STEM lessons," said MITS Executive Director Sandra Ryack-Bell.
She said the desired outcome is for these kinds of interactive lessons to better engage students in the process of critical thinking, developing new ideas, testing them out and working on a team.
"A lot of kids coming out of college, even though they have a STEM degree, they don't have the degree of skills that employers need. They need to be more well-rounded, to be able to work on a team, to volunteer, to lead," Ryack-Bell said.
To learn more about MITS, call (617) 328-1515, or visit http://mits.org.