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Project-based learning

Bethlehem-based education company focuses on project-based learning

Special to the Union Leader

March 30. 2014 4:10PM
Bill Church operates a 3-D printer in his office. The printer costs less than $1,000. (DEBRA THORNBLAD PHOTO)

BETHLEHEM — Education is changing, and programs that are being adopted in many schools connect with the “maker movement,” which promote learning and by doing and collaboration.

Bill Church, a long-time science teacher at Littleton High School, recently started White Mountain Science in incubator space owned by WREN (Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network) in Bethlehem. Church and his wife, Jessica Turtle, a professor at Plymouth, live in Bethlehem.

Recently, Church put on a program at WREN in Berlin that talked about what the maker movement is and how it is growing.

Church became interested in project-based learning and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) while at Littleton.

He grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at Binghamton (N.Y.) University. Interested in teaching and the outdoors, he began teaching trail work in the Adirondacks. He then got a master’s in education from Cornell, where he met his wife. The couple moved first to Dover, then to Franconia, then to Bethlehem.

Church taught physics, physical science and robotics at Littleton High School for 12 years. It was there he began exploring learning through projects. While working with professors at Tufts University, he became interested in the concept of using engineering as a way to apply math and science in K-12 curriculum.

He then got a second master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Tufts, focusing on how it could be used in the classroom.

In the meantime, the maker movement was growing and making its way into New Hampshire.

Church said he could see how it could be used as a resource for schools and summer camps.

By June 2012 he decided not to return to full-time teaching and started White Mountain Science in 2013.

“I was starting to get interest expressed by adults in the whole project-based learning concept, some saying they wished that could take the courses,” he said, as well as a growing interest in the maker movement itself.

“We’re in the building phase, finding out what our niche will be in the North Country,” he said.

The whole concept of what the business model will ultimately be for “maker” facilities was voiced by Laura Jamison, in charge of the Berlin WREN program, as well. She is hoping to develop a maker facility in that community at some point. To that end she has met with Clint Crosby of “Port City Makers Space,” which she said is changing from profit to non-profit.

Jamison and Church were scheduled to meet with a representative from Artisans Asylum in Somerville Mass., on Friday to talk about their business model.

White Mountain Science will no doubt continue to be involved in education. The company’s mission statement says in part that the company “seeks to provide educational opportunities in the fields of science, technology, design, arts and mathematics and to provide resources to the rural communities of northern New Hampshire and surrounding regions through classes, workshops, summer camps, design and fabrication studio space and other in-house and out-reach efforts.”

Church has kept his teacher certification and taught a STEAM class at Profile High School this year.

Many schools have STEM programs, but some schools have started to add art in the mix.

“There are many aspects of art that are enhanced by knowledge of science and math concepts,” he said. “People are starting to realize teaching these alone is not the best way. And STEAM fits well with the maker movement.”

Last summer White Mountain Science offered a robotic camp for children entering grades 3-7. They worked with Lego Robotics Kits to build things to solve problems, like making a vehicle move without wheels.

The camp will be offered again this summer.

“The camp is focused on the kids having fun,” he said.

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