A look back at the 2015 MIT Science and Engineering Program for Teachers

07 Aug A look back at the 2015 MIT Science and Engineering Program for Teachers

In late June, the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program hosted SEPT – an intensive week-long program that brings together top secondary school teachers with researchers at MIT.


SEPT stands for the MIT Science and Engineering Program for Teachers – a name and nickname that just hint at the program’s full scope. Since it started in 1989, SEPT has expanded far beyond just “Science and Engineering” – a typical schedule for the week now spans subjects from nano materials and math to educational technology and games. The 2015 program, which ran from June 21-27, also included sessions from a Massachusetts policymaker, Marilyn Decker, and an award-winning photographer, Felice Frankel, who demonstrated how images can teach science and engineering. And, along with the variety of subjects, there is variety in the format of the week’s two dozen sessions, such as these:

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Tour to check out an electron microscope used for Prof. Angela Belcher’s research
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Activities using digital and physical modeling tools to explore DNA and other complex systems
Interactive demonstrations of math concepts led by Street Fighting mathematician, Sanjoy Mahajan.

This year’s group of teachers came from the US, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and — for the first time — Brazil and South Africa. With more international teachers involved, SEPT extends the mens et menus tradition beyond MIT and US borders, and the program’s participants gain invaluable perspectives from their peers in other countries. One teacher, who returned this year as a co-organizer of SEPT, pointed out that an international group keeps the week uniquely upbeat – teachers see how they’re connected to a global network of professional educators, and are inspired by an exchange of ideas from school systems worldwide.

Throughout SEPT, the flow of inspiring ideas is multi-directional. One MIT researcher who led a workshop this year said her session was “such a learning experience for me (we had a great brainstorm as well :)”, and a few faculty members who presented want to lead sessions next year that will let them interact more with the teachers. As organizers of SEPT, that’s the best kind of feedback we hear! We welcome teachers to MIT as professionals, so we feel we’ve done our job when the MIT faculty and SEPT teachers engage with each other as peers – as professional educators facing similar challenges in teaching current science to the next generation.

A final detail to highlight about this year’s program is the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory Design Challenge that brought out the best in our teachers. On Thursday, the programming grew notably more intense when the evening’s presenter challenged the group to help redesign the outreach programming offered by the MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory (NRL) – it was a hackathon that demonstrated the talent of SEPT teachers, along with their competitive sides! The proposals that developed from 7 teams of teachers (over only 36 hours!) ranged from student video and engineering projects to paper-based activities and lessons that align with curricula standards. It was an impressive show of collaboration among team members, and between SEPT and the Nuclear Reactor Lab folks. And, if all goes as planned, the collaboration won’t end – the NRL will implement the teachers’ winning ideas, SEPT will facilitate a new design challenge in 2016, and hopefully this years’ teams of teachers will keep in contact to develop even more good ideas!

The MIT Alumni Clubs and individuals who sponsored teachers’ attendance deserve a big thank you for their support! Not only do they make SEPT possible at MIT, but they make it possible to spread what the program offers to other teachers in their own communities. As organizers, we’ve built a website to share the content from SEPT, and we’ve selected speakers whose online materials can be shared with students – but, ultimately, it’s the teachers who pass on the parts of SEPT that are most important for their classrooms:  the spirit of openness, inquiry, collaboration, and innovation that is essential to learning at MIT.

> For more information about SEPT 2015, click here to browse the listing of sessions, photos, and resources. Information about next year’s program will be posted to the website in November 2015. SEPT participants are selected from a competitive pool of teachers identified by MIT Alumni Clubs.