NEWTON, NJ- It has not been much of a vacation yet for two Newton STEM teachers.  Jim Hofmann and Brian Bennington left school a day early to attend a National Center for the Advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or nCASE STEM training in Washington, Pennsylvania.

“As soon as Principal [Jeff Waldron] heard about what this program will offer, he was very supportive,” Hofmann said.  The two teachers had to miss the last day of school and graduation.

Set on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania or Cal U, the two week Summer Teacher Training Institiute and Student Workshop was attended by invitees from K-12 school, technical schools, universities, private industry and community and economic development organizations.

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The two Newton teachers earned 85 professional development hours for the “grueling two weeks,” Hofmann said. “It’s a huge commitment.”

“Spending two weeks together has been like no other form of professional development,” Hofmann said.  “While the workshops were very informative, the opportunity to meet, talk and network with professionals from across the country will also be valuable over time.”

One of the highlights of their time at Cal U was the chance to meet special guest Sarah Korona a NASA scientist, Hofmann said.  Korona, as the lead NASA EVA Officer, trains the astronauts how to safely suit up and work around the International Space Station. 

Hofmann said there were two modules to choose from at the conference.  He chose Math with Robots and Bennington chose Smart Sensors learning about EV3 LEGO Robotics platform.  The two are anticipated to attend for the full five year articulation of the program, with this being the first year.

While the Newton Robotics team completes in the VEX League, “any concepts we do with LEGO can translate easily to VEX,” Hofman said. "The math concepts will be very useful in the classroom."

According to Hofmann, the organization seeks to have other educators join, as they learn about his and Bennington’s experience.

For the first week of the conference the teachers learned new concepts and techniques.  In the second week they put them into practice with middle school students who also attended the workshops.

“nCASE hopes to stimulate an interest in and a heightened awareness of STEM so that our children, our future, will be prepared to meet the challenges of the new millennium,” a representative of the organization said.

The teachers were also given the opportunity to work with PTC an international software company, the leading sponsor of the all expense paid conference. PTC also gave two presentations specifically designed for the attendees.

With support from the U.S. Department of Defense, nCASE STEM was created to address the issue of a “severe short fall of STEM professionals in the workforce.” 

Hofmann learned of the nCASE STEM program through Shara Dabari in the STEM office at Picatinny Arsenal. Hofmann said he has known Dabari for 10 years. In the summer Hofmann works with the children who live on base in a STEM camp. 

“It’s always a lot of fun,” Hofmann said.  This summer he worked with the nine, 10 and 11-year-olds, while the high school students were in a different room.

“I would really like to get the word out to other STEM teachers in the area, to encourage them to attend nCASE as well,” Hofmann said.  “It will really be beneficial back in the classroom.”