Waisome Helps High School Educators Lean Into Windy Lessons at UF

When Zonnelle Hanley’s high school students return to class this fall, they will dive into hands-on, project-based lessons on how storms affect Florida’s northern coasts.

Thanks to the NHERI Teacher Training Institute at the University of Florida, Hanley’s students will study storm-related vulnerabilities and resilience on the Gulf coast and the Atlantic coast. They will engage in research, build models, examine ecosystems and review Florida geography.

“Some of our students have not been out of Tallahassee,” Hanley told a group of her peers recently as she presented her lesson plan gleaned from a week of Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) teacher training at UF.

Not only will Hanley and her students reap the rewards of these National Science Foundation-funded, UF-faculty-led workshops, she will have easy access to faculty and engineering students, as well as materials and other UF resources to significantly up her game in a STEM classroom.

Hanley was one of six Florida high school educators selected to study at UF this month. After four days, they left with extensive project-based lesson plans on wind resistance, new ways to think about STEM teaching and memories of trying to stay upright in a wind tunnel.

The fourth year of the five-year NHERI workshops, part of the NHERI experimental facility award, the 2024 session wrapped up June 7 with presentations by the teachers demonstrating how, exactly, they will integrate those lessons–and UF resources—into their classrooms.

“The most valuable takeaway is that we are here to serve them and their students,” noted Jeremy Waisome, Ph.D, the Thomas O. Hunter Rising Star Assistant Professor who has overseen the NHERI Teacher Training Institute since it evolved from a $4.5 million NSF cooperative agreement with the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering in 2021.

It is an important mission, the teachers contend, because not only do they provide vital skills, ideas and networking, the workshops also offer ways to inspire high school students about engineering and the different applications and career fields. The NHERI Teacher Training Institute works with underrepresented groups and Title I schools. Thus, inspiration is key, as many students do not know about careers in engineering, lack interest or simply think they are not smart enough for engineering.

“Some say, ‘Oh my gosh!’ This is part of a marine science career? That is possible?’” noted Maureen Shankman, a teacher at Santa Fe High School who participated in the institute.

“When the kids get to see what they can do with this, they get excited,” added Ken Jakoby, a teacher in Sarasota County.

The institute also provides student tours and hands-on projects for K-12 students in Florida.

“The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering has always been a space where outreach is valued, especially across the state of Florida,” Waisome said. “As someone who was recruited to UF through these programs, it is truly a privilege to now facilitate them for our students and teachers.”

Teachers in the June session said they loved the project-learning approach, as that is what works in their classrooms. Among the hands-on lessons: The teachers built and tested wind turbines.

They also spent much time in UF’s wind hazard experimental facility on East Campus in northeast Gainesville. The facility – where the teachers battled high wind gusts in the tunnel — is one of seven NHERI facilities in the United States that support research on tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados, along with structural-damage mitigation and societal impacts.

“This was not a sit and get,” Shankman said of the hands-on, wind-in-her-face UF session. “This was a sit and do.”

For more information:
David Schlenker
Public Relations Specialist
Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering