COLUMBUS — Crouching on her knees, Denise Oestmann waited only a moment before she released a switch and watched as the catapult she built launched a Superball in a high arc across the room.

The ball bounced on the carpet several feet in front of her, rolling to a stop underneath a table.

It seemed like fun and games, and it was, but Oestmann, a science and math teacher from Auburn, and other educators from across the state were learning, too.

About 50 elementary, middle and high school teachers have been taking part in the Project SHINE professional development workshop at Central Community College-Columbus. The program illustrates how teachers can introduce activities into their classrooms that focus on industrial needs in the state.

The two-week Project SHINE is in its fourth year and is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Its purpose is to build a collaboration between education and business, said Merlin Lahm, a facilitator of the program.

“Not that long ago, businesses didn’t have what they needed,” Lahm said, adding that students lacked skills in areas such as technology, math and science to fill industrial work force jobs.

To help meet those needs, Project SHINE was started. It focuses on promoting science, technology, engineering and math and how those skill are directly used in industries.

Teachers in the program visit area businesses and are paired with a mentor there for a year. Educators learn what careers are available and the skills needed to fill those jobs.

Lahm said businesses are valuable resources for teachers.

“Businesses can really help eductors because of their vast resources,” he said.

Lahm, who teaches math at Scotus Central Catholic, has been with Project SHINE since its first year. He said it has made a difference for him and how he teaches. He has incorporated more hands-on activities in his classroom that show students how math is used in industries.

Participants in Project SHINE also take part in hands-on activities at the college that can be used in the classroom. On Tuesday, they constructed a catapult and built a fluid power arm that simulates hydraulics used in manufacturing.

Jessica Spilker, a math and speech teacher at Columbus Middle School, said she has developed lesson plans after visiting companies such as Vishay and Behlen Mfg. through Project SHINE the past two years.

She has learned what those companies really do and how products are made there.

That is what Anna Wagner, a second-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School, wants to pass along to her students.

“I don’t think they realize what the industries look like and that factories take skilled workers,” Wagner said.

Even though she teaches young students, Wagner said she is going to take away lessons to use in her classroom, including just how many jobs are available in Nebraska for those who have the right skills.

Hopefully that will help get students excited about science and math.


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