Discovery Place opens STEM training facility for thousands of teachers

If you didn’t know any better, the Discovery Place Education Studio might seem like an upscale elementary school.

Modern tables and chairs sit on wheels for easy reorganization, overflowing bookshelves line the walls, and a giant stuffed bear lurks in the corner, just around the bend from a hammerhead shark hanging from the ceiling.

The open, airy rooms spread across the uptown building will serve as classrooms, but it won’t be students doing the learning here.

It will be the teachers.

After nearly a year of planning and six months of construction, the Education Studio on North Poplar Street opened Thursday. Over the course of the next five years, program directors aim to bring 5,000 teachers through the facility to educate them on how best to teach STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – topics inside and out of the classroom.

The building formerly housed the Bank of America corporate child care center but was given to Discovery Place to give Charlotte space for state-of-the-art teacher training materials.

“It was building on the past with what we have with Discovery Place and really propelling ourselves into the future,” said Charles Bowman, Charlotte market president for Bank of America. “That’s what it’s really about.”

Bowman said he’s looking forward to returning soon to see how teachers are using the facility. He won’t have to wait long – classes start as early as next week.

These workshops will cover a range of topics, lengths and costs, ranging from Geocaching 101 to Raptor Anatomy, from a few hours to a few days, and from free of charge to $900. The cost of a class depends on the length, materials and experts brought in, said Stephanie Hathaway, director of Discovery Place Education Studio.

Donations from Duke Energy, UTC Aerospace Systems and OrthoCarolina will go toward building costs, program fees and scholarship access to rural areas of the region. So far, Discovery Place has raised $1.1 million for the Education Studio and hopes to raise “millions more,” said Chris Perri, Discovery Place board chair.

Jacki Lane was part of the first class of Discovery Place STEM Fellows, where she and 19 other teachers collaborated to determine effective ways to teach science, technology, engineering and math to students across the Carolinas.

For Lane, the STEM teachers she’s worked with and hundreds of other educators across the state, the Education Studio’s resources are a dream come true.

“Not only do we have all of these hands-on resources to be able to bring all of these things to our students that we would never have access to,” Lane said, pointing around the room to the model skeleton in the corner, “but we also have this space where we can have those discussions that lead to the growth in what we know and what we can do for our students.”

STEM equipment can be difficult to obtain, not to mention expensive, which puts it out of reach for many schools. That’s why Education Studio employs 3-D scanners and printers, so teachers can take exact replicas of tools and artifacts back to their classrooms.

Lane said Education Studio has already shaped every aspect of her teaching. She said not a day goes by when she doesn’t wonder how other STEM Fellows would tackle problems she faces in her own lesson plans.

“I think it’s important for us to take a step back, even in reflecting how we run our classrooms,” she said. “Even sitting there as a student, despite that you’re a teacher, it really reminds you of what education should be.”

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