The challenge was tasty: Make pavement out of chocolate and graham crackers. Then eat it.
The task was assigned by Forest “Juney” Shober to his high school science class when he taught at The Howard School.
“If you ask, ‘Hey, do you think kids would like to make their own little snack and eat it? Of course, they’re going to say, ‘Yeah.’ That seems kind of silly, right?” said Shober.
“But you can put it in the context of: Let’s take good, positive experiences and make it part of this whole thing where the kids are learning.”
Shober developed the idea for edible pavement after the Research Experience for Teachers (RET). The six-week program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga helps local K-12 teachers find ways to engage their students beyond listening to a lecture and looking at words on a whiteboard.
As part of the National Science Foundation-funded RET, for the past three summers faculty from the UTC College of Engineering and Computer Science have worked with teachers in the Hamilton County School System and others on project-based learning that is both effective and fun for students.
This summer, 15 teachers from schools in Hamilton and Marion counties attended the RET. A total of 29 teachers have participated in it since it began.
“We are proud to have created the necessary partnerships to provide all the support we can to teachers and in turn see exemplary results by teachers,” said Dr. Raga Ahmed, associate professor in the UTC Department of Electrical Engineering and co-director of the RET.
Dr. Mbakisya Onyango, UC Foundation associate professor of civil engineering, co-directed the RET.
UTC faculty who worked as mentors in the latest RET are:
- Wolday Abrha, visiting assistant professor in engineering management and technology;
- Jejal-Reddy Bathi, assistant professor in civil engineering;
- Vahid Disfani, associate professor in electrical engineering;
- Erkan Kaplanoglu, department head and associate professor in engineering management and technology;
- Abdelrahman Karrar, UC Foundation professor in electrical engineering;
- Abdul Ofoli, department head and professor in electrical engineering
Lora Taylor, a teacher at Tyner Middle Academy who attended this summer’s RET program, said she has “learned to incorporate project-based learning techniques into my lesson plans, encouraging students to explore real-world problems and devise their solutions.”
“This approach not only enhances their critical thinking skills but also fosters a sense of ownership and enthusiasm for their learning,” she said.
While RET focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), its lessons can be used across the educational board.
“Programs like RET support teachers and students. Smart cities like Chattanooga need ‘smart education,’” said Jasmine Johnson, who teaches English Language Arts at Tyner Academy and participated in this summer’s program. She graduated from UTC in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English and American language and literature.
Shober, who participated in the RET in 2021, 2022 and 2023, said the program has helped him build confidence, “Oh, I can do this and the kids are going to love it.’”
He now is the science teacher in the new University High at UTC, a two-year program launching this fall semester and is designed to help Hamilton County high school students get a head start on a college degree. Fifty-six students from county schools are enrolled in the program’s initial class.
After two years in the program, students will earn 14 to 20 college credit hours. Courses will prepare students for future UTC classes while meeting high school graduation requirements.
Shober was so impressed with his RET experiences that he said he would use them in his University High classes.
In his lesson about road construction at Howard, he had students melt chocolate and mix it with crushed graham crackers to simulate the asphalt and gravel used to make pavement. Building bridges and walls, they then tested the strength of their concoction with weights and applied pressure. When the experiments were over, the students snacked on their “pavement.”
“You can do things that are fun and you’re learning; the two are not exclusive to each other,” Shober said. “There’s certainly overlap and it helps teachers navigate that and figure out, ‘How do we do these meaningful experiences that the kids are enjoying, but they’re also getting some benefit from on an academic level.’”