Nine area high school teachers spent part of their summer break at the University of North Texas learning engaging ways to teach science and technology.
UNT launched the Research Experiences for Teachers in Sensor Networks program after receiving a nearly $500,000 grant - one of three awarded in the nation - from the National Science Foundation a little more than a month ago.
The grant funds the program for three years and allows 12 area high school teachers to research a specific field with the help of university staff and resources.
"In addition to the research, they develop lesson plans that they take back to the classroom for the academic year," said Miguel Acevedo, an electrical engineering professor. "It's a very significant achievement for UNT."
Also as part of the program, UNT will partner with the teachers to host "TechFest: Engineering a Better Tomorrow" in their school districts. The event brings together children and parents for hands-on projects.
Seven UNT faculty members and two graduate students are assisting the first group of teachers, who were divided into four teams.
In a lab on the second floor of UNT's Discovery Park, Sharon Wood, Barbara Lightfoot and Blaine Chamberlain created three different ecosystems to test aquatic sensors. Plants grow out of PVC pipes over the three open aquariums: one with fish and no plants; one with plants and no fish; and one with fish and plants.
The group was trying to figure out what aquatic sensors can do, said Chamberlain, who teaches at Newman Smith High School in Carrollton.
The teachers will create similar setups in their classrooms to teach students about ecosystems and nitrogen cycles.
"It's tough to get across the idea of the ecosystem to the kids," said Wood, who teaches at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, adding that these systems will allow students to see the changes taking place.
They will also demonstrate that science is about trial and error.
"It's not always a perfect scenario," said Lightfoot, a Krum High School teacher.
Not far from the ecosystem display, small containers of soil sit on the floor.
Newman Smith High's Laura De Lemos and Guyer High School's Randall Dupree are using wireless network sensors to monitor how different types of sands and soils respond to an automatic irrigation system.
Lewisville High School teacher Dawn Chegwidden and Northwest High School teacher Kim Garrett spent their five weeks studying watersheds, specifically the Neches River, in an effort to determine whether natural habitats can be sustained as demand for water increases.
When the school year begins, they'll have their students study the Trinity River.
Garrett said 80 percent of water from the Trinity is used for municipal purposes such as drinking water and sewage.
Ashley Sink, who teaches at Northwest High, spent her summer working with sensor technology that uses a series of photos to help robots avoid running into objects in their environment.
Her students make rockets each spring, and she hopes to give them a new perspective by using the technology to take aerial photos as their creations descend back to earth.
Donn Arnold, a teacher at Krum High School, has been looking at technology that will allow him to host a "Web lab," which would allow students to learn from a university professor via the Internet. Arnold will have his first Web lab the first week of September.
"It has a very special ingredient because it has interaction," said Ruthanne "Rudi" Thompson, a biological sciences professor at UNT.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.