Racine Unified fifth-grade teacher Christine Molitor faced an odd task last week: land an egg, which was balancing on a toilet paper roll on a pizza pan on a jar of water, in the jar unbroken using only a broom to dislodge the other items.
The trick, Molitor discovered, was flicking the broom into the pizza pan so it flew across the room, sending the toilet paper roll twirling in the opposite direction and sending the egg down into the water.
“Gravity is pulling the egg down. Friction moves the (roll) across the pan,” Molitor explained. “And it’s all about Newton’s First Law of Motion: If an object is at rest, it stays at rest unless an outside force acts on it.”
Those are the lessons Molitor will teach her students in the next school year, likely using a similar hands-on activity, thanks to the 2013 Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy.
Molitor attended the academy, held to improve teachers’ math and science instruction skills, from July 21 through Friday in Jersey City, N.J.
Molitor applied for the academy and was one of 200 third- through fifth-grade teachers selected out of more than 1,500 applicants.
Molitor, 40, of Racine, wanted to attend because she could use more engaging classroom activities for her students and because, if she had to rank her various teaching skills, she’d put teaching math and science toward the bottom, she said.
“I want to have better opportunities for the students … (than) just pulling out the book and teaching from the book and doing the little experiments the book has,” Molitor said.
Enter experiments like the egg drop.
“I must have a good 30 lessons to go back with,” Molitor said last week during the academy. “But it’s more than that. It’s changing my mindset for my teaching.”
That change is moving from a model where the teacher gives a lesson and then students do a project, to a model where students first do the work and then talk with the teacher about what they learned and still need to know. The work-first model inspires inquiry-based learning and problem-solving, said Molitor, who teaches at West Ridge Elementary School, 1347 S. Emmertsen Road.
Molitor’s academy participation was all expenses paid. She also gets free access to the National Science Teachers Association’s online learning center, she said.
The academy was a joint effort of the association, Math Solutions professional development company, golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, and ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil was involved because the oil and gas company needs science and math experts to fill its jobs, Molitor said.
“Our country is not graduating enough individuals in these areas,” she said. “The hope is by reaching out to teachers that teach in grades three through five and helping us improve our instructional strategies, the students will be interested in pursuing a degree in a science-, engineering- or math-related field.”
She added, “So hopefully one of the kids I teach this year may end up curing cancer or something. I mean, who knows?”