Theater Meets Engineering Education: Irondale Teaches K12 Instructors


This week marked the final preparations for K12 program leaders before the arrival of their students in July. The instructors worked closely with Irondale Theater leader and actor Terry Greiss to hone their skills in presenting for large audiences, condensing information, and connecting with one another.


Over the three day period, Greiss led the instructors through a number of exercises meant to introduce them to one another and begin warming up their skills in expression. Activities ranged from simple exercises such as relating their science to a classmate’s hobby, and pitching fictional products, to more emotional exercises such as describing their favorite picture using a blank sheet of paper or telling their own personal stories with science. This is especially important when many of the concepts instructors will teach may be complex and directed towards a younger audience.


The first day was mostly focused on introductions and loosening up: “Do you remember each others’ names better?” Greiss said after one particular exercise, in which the instructors were required as a group to introduce themselves by accompanying it with a gesture and profession of their favorite subject.

“Why do you think that is? It’s because you associate things with each of them. It’s not enough to simply hear a name once; when you picture something in accordance with it, it’s easier to ingrain that information in your head.” Most important to Terry was how well each of the instructors were able remember each other, and he stressed time and time again the necessity of retaining personal information about one’s associates in order to maximize the efficiency of academic interactions.


The second day was mostly based around storytelling and communication: in one activity, students applied a storytelling structure to their sciences, speaking first in pairs and then to the entire group. According to Greiss, this shows how presenting to large groups can be made easier by getting to know individuals first, building greater trust and allowing for an easier time conveying information. To create a more collaborative and quick-thinking environment, students were brought up in groups of five, tasked with telling a story, in which one member says a portion of it, followed by another member quickly adding to it.

For the final day, enthusiasm and empathy were the main themes. In a pairs, students ranted for a minute to each other about something they were passionately angry about. Then, in a group, they each described the good attributes and qualities of their partners despite the negativity of their rants. This illustrated the concept of empathy and understanding for others, even if they aren’t at their best. To practice enthusiasm, students were divided into large groups and given two random objects which they were tasked with feverishly pitching like an infomercial. This was a conductive exercise not just for working in groups, but for providing convincing information and showing fast-thinking enthusiasm and creativity.


The creative application of social interactions to explaining science and engineering concepts is key to an effective education, as well as collaborative efficiency. With their skills in these matters revitalized, the Instructors for the K12 STEM program are ready to tackle the task of bolstering the knowledge of those younger than them, promising a successful experience this summer.
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Written by Henry McClure and Nicolas Parada, NYU K12 STEM Center