LARCHMONT, N.Y. - As a Hommocks Middle School teacher, Lawrence Perretto has been encouraging project-based science lessons in his Larchmont classroom for 14 years.
Perretto’s background in construction and social sciences education helped him understand the importance of project-based learning for students. As a teacher, he began to notice students losing interest in science as they got closer to high school. When Perretto heard about the Siemens Teachers as Researchers (STARs) fellowship program, which would allow him to participate in a research program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. for two weeks over the summer, he applied immediately.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for young people to get involved with professional science and that’s what STARs really excels at and I am grateful for the opportunity,” said Perretto.
The STARs fellowship program is a collaborative effort between Siemans STEM Academy, The Siemans Foundation and Discovery Education. Teachers are immersed in authentic research being completed by professional scientists, work they will bring back to their classrooms to inspire students.
Perretto was one of 20 teachers chosen this year to participate in the program. He spent two weeks at ORNL studying biofuels as alternative sources of energy.
“The challenge now is to take whatever we learned with STARs and adapt it to the classrooms,” Perretto said.
After working in Tennessee for two weeks, Perretto was invited to Washington D.C. to help teach a similar themed science program to students. PBS also filmed a short documentary about one of Perretto’s project-based teaching methods after it heard about him using an iPad to demonstrate heat energy to some of his students.
“I do these projects so that students are involved in science and not just studying science. There’s a distinct difference,” Perretto said. “The best teaching I do is when I don’t teach at all, and when I step back and let them explore.”
Perretto’s overall goal, he said, is to help instill interest in scientific research in children at a young age. Perretto said he believes strongly that the education system needs to change to include more projects and hands-on learning.
“We’ve got to cultivate enthusiasm at a young age. We have got to change this,” Perretto said. “I’m honored by the privilege of the experience I’ve had with the STARs fellowship and I feel very fortunate and lucky to be able to bring these things back to the classroom.”