VERONA, NJ - A Verona teacher recently participated in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Washington D.C., not only for her own education, but to better the education of her students as well.

Julia Harth is a technology, engineering and design (TED) teacher at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School who was recently nominated to participate in a project with the National Academy of Engineering. This opportunity gave her the chance to serve as a panelist for a full weekend in April and share her experience with engineering.

Harth was nominated to participate in the project by Tanner Huffman, a new faculty member of the Department of Technological Studies at The College of New Jersey, where Harth received her B.S. in Integrative-STEM Education and her M.A. in Special Education in May 2015. Huffman serves as a committee member of the Educator Capacity Building in PreK-12 Engineering Education project at the National Academy of Engineering and was tasked with finding leaders in the field that would contribute to a conversation about teaching engineering in K-12 education. One of these leaders was Harth, who was recommended by Dr. Figueroa, an assistant professor at TCNJ.

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Harth participated in the workshop April 18 to April 20 and brought back even more knowledge and ideas that will help to improve Verona’s engineering program.

“The workshop aims to highlight the many different pathways taken by PreK-12 engineering educators,” Harth said. “The committee is interested in hearing from educators with a wide range of both backgrounds and engineering experiences, including the obstacles and opportunities they experienced.”

The middle school teacher’s background in special education and STEM is what made her such a great candidate for this project.

“My background in special education has influenced my approach to teaching STEM. As a special education teacher, I would modify and adjust curriculum to meet the needs of individual students,” Harth said. “Similarly, my current students are taught to draw from the expertise of one another. They’re encouraged to develop multiple solutions to a problem so that an optimal design can be achieved.”

At the workshop, Harth – as well as the other panelists – were asked to present their stories and answer questions from the audience. She was able to share her own story and listen to the stories and experiences of others within the field, and even meet some new educators who she is looking forward to working with in the future.

“One of my favorite discussions within the conference was regarding best practices in STEM education, with a focus on the ‘E’ within the acronym,” Harth said. “Ultimately, we were trying to come to some consensus on what it truly means to teach engineering in K-12.”

Although Harth said there is no ideal model for teaching STEM education, she was happy to learn that Verona’s program is headed in the direction of many of the discussed goals.

The engineering teacher plans to continue to develop a successful STEM program at H.B. Whitehorne, as well as continue the Maker Club she has established. The club focuses on creating additional opportunities for students to gain confidence, creativity and interest in STEM.

“I would like to see STEM made accessible to all students,” Harth said. “Which is why I’ve recently partnered with one of the special education teachers at HBW to incorporate various aspects of STEM into the special education curriculum.”