If Diane Ripollone, a science teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School, were to write a “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essay, it would be filled with tales of wind tunnels, scuba diving and mammoth bones.
And for each of those adventures, Ripollone would be able to explain how the science lessons behind them will benefit her students when she heads back to school.
The 25-year teaching veteran, who has spent the last 15 years at Cardinal Gibbons, crisscrossed the country this summer to attend various programs that give teachers an inside look at scientific research and careers. They then bring their hands-on experience back to the classroom.
“It really makes things come alive,” Ripollone said. “I can’t wait to show students.”
This summer, Ripollone spent time learning about laser systems through a NASA program, attending an advanced space academy for educators, and conducting research at the Coyote Canyon Mammoth Site and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state.
For the last of these, Ripollone was one of only 20 teachers from across the country selected by the Siemens STEM Academy for the all-expenses-paid “Siemens Teachers as Researchers” fellowship.
The goal of the fellowship is to give teachers an experience in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – that they can use to encourage their students to pursue STEM careers.
In Washington, Ripollone worked with a small team of teachers to gather data from soil samples that would help answer the question of whether a mammoth skeleton found in the area is from a mammoth that originated there or one whose remains ended up in the area because of flooding.
The teachers didn’t leave with an answer, but their data will be an important resource for the scientists at the site.
“That’s research!” Ripollone said. She explained that it’s far easier to talk to students about the scientific method after engaging in it herself. She’s seen how an experiment progresses and her descriptions of her experience can make things more tangible for students.
“They come in, and they think they can’t do it, but they can,” she said.
She also will share with students the importance of collaboration communication and creative problem-solving in STEM fields.
Ripollone said she encourages all teachers to apply and participate in programs like the ones she attended, if they’re able to do so. Not only does it benefit students, but it’s rejuvenating for teachers.
“It’s just tremendous,” she said.