Seeds of Teacher Externships sown in spring

Bill Gelhaus gets hands on during his Teacher Externship expirence.
Bill Gelhaus, middle school teacher at West Branch Community School District, got hands-on with the State Hygienic Lab last summer during his Teacher Externship experience.

The most valuable professional development experience they have ever had is how 93 percent of participants describe the STEM Council's Real World Externships for Teachers of mathematics, science and technology. That outcome, alongside many other metrics suggesting Teacher Externships really pack a punch, is a tribute to the people involved who work behind-the-scenes year-round to make every teacher's summer experience flow smoothly.

Almost as soon as a summer cohort of teachers returns to implement their Teacher Extern experiences at school in the fall, the STEM Council's operations team begins setting the table for next summer by recruiting businesses from across the state to serve as Extern Hosts for the coming year. Businesses and agencies continuously cycle in and out of the program, keeping the team busy. Fortunately, University of Northern Iowa graduate student Lauren Winter ably manages communications, record-keeping and communications for the project.

"Every year, the project goes through a bit of turnover as some of our hosts take a year off while others join in, and we find that these new businesses are eager to join the program," Winter said. "Extern Hosts have the chance to educate teachers on the necessary skills their students will need to enter the workforce after they complete their education, indirectly shaping the future workforce."

Once Extern Host commitments are locked down through mid-winter, the teacher application opens in January for the array of Teacher Externship experiences across Iowa for the upcoming summer. By mid-March, the operations team begins orchestrating a complex, match-making process that best fits applicants to openings. Educators from within a 30-mile radius are alerted to opportunities at local industries, research facilities and state or county agencies. Extern Hosts weigh these applications before extending invitations for interviews with the candidates and project staff.

By early June, the Teacher Externs attend an orientation that includes preparations for work-place expectations, immersion into the Iowa Core, outcomes expectations regarding classroom translations of the experience and procedural details, including setting up weekly blogs and building project-based learning assignments. A higher education mentor coaches each Teacher Extern over the course of summer and into fall on how to navigate the six-week experience and implement new ideas into their classrooms.

"Program mentors are an incredibly important aspect of the program because they are responsible for assisting the teachers as they translate their Teacher Externship experiences into problem-based learning applications for their classrooms," Winter said.

There is still time to get in on this summer's Teacher Externship program as an Extern Host or Teacher Extern. For more information on the program, e-mail or visit

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