Joel Bonasera, manager of the STEM Fellows program, and Jackie Lane, a STEM Educator in the Kannapolis City Schools.

Discovery Place launches a Hogwarts for teachers

Teachers have tough jobs. Parents question their methods. Politicians and business hacks tell them what to do. Governments require endless tests from their students, and then base compensation on results that are often beyond their control. Rock stars in bad makeup write unflattering songs about them.

But a new program from Discovery Place celebrates the teacher. Called the Education Studio, its physical space resembles the kind of light-filled offices you imagine at well-funded startups in Silicon Valley. The studio offers a set of programs aimed at a goal that’s simple to express and difficult to achieve: Bring the wonder back into teaching.

In an opening ceremony in late May, Discovery Place board chairman Chris Perri described the program’s mission.

“We’re leveraging partnerships with the community, we’re leveraging a building that couldn’t be a more beautiful addition to our Discovery Place campus, we’re leveraging a collection of 60,000 objects, and we’re hoping to ignite wonder and help teachers know we care about them,” Perri told reporters and community leaders gathered on the brick steps of the uptown facility. “We want them to hone their craft as teachers, and we want them to work with their peers and have the best resources possible. And that isn’t just Charlotte: our goal is to impact almost 5,000 educators throughout the Carolinas, and we think we can do that. We’re very lucky to be part of a community that understands the importance of investing in educators, and we’re especially proud to play this small role in doing that.”

The studio is housed in a renovated, completely reimagined former corporate day care center now known the Bank of America STEM Center for Career Development. It offers wet laboratories, computer labs, 3-D printing areas, classrooms, discussion spaces, and something called the ‘Forge’ Studio, which director Stephanie Hathaway describes as their version of a maker space (see video interview with Hathaway, right). These are places where teachers can create, collaborate with each other, imagine new tools, build things, and take them back to their classroom. A Discovery Place special collection is housed there and includes museum objects that teachers can check out, or scan and print 3-D copies that spark the imagination of their own students.

The studio’s focus is science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Hathaway says K-12 teachers sometimes don’t get the kind of training in STEM subjects they need. The professional development programs range from half-day and day-long workshops to week-long courses and field institutes in other parts of the Southeast.

Reading even a partial list of subjects taught at the Education Studio leaves you out of breath: flipped classrooms, digital teaching methods, digital citizenship, gamification in the classroom, oceanography, robotics, physics, meteorology, rocketry, geology, astronomy, biology, horticulture, the intersection of science and art, biotechnology, engineering, climatology, raptor anatomy and archaeology. The soundtrack for this vision of education replaces Alice Cooper with The White Stripes. Their 2002 song “We Are Going to Be Friends” starts with the lyric, “Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell.”

The Discovery Place Education Studio offers professional development programs for teachers in an environment that resembles think tanks in Massachusetts and well-funded startups in Silicon Valley.

Photograph above: the studio offers professional development programs for teachers in a light-filled environment renovated by Rodgers Builders of Charlotte. Photograph at top: Jackie Lane, Kannapolis teacher and STEM Fellow, and Joel Bonasera, manager of the STEM Fellows Program, build a 3-D printer for the studio.