Newton's Road

May 12, 2021
Ideas That MatterJulia Winter

Intro (00:02):

Welcome to Season 2 Episode 8 of Ideas That Matter wherewe meet with people making a difference in education. Julia is joined by BarbTermaat, Executive Director of Newtons Road to discuss bringing STEM learningto youth in our community.

Julia Winter (00:19):

Hi, I'm Julia Winter with another Ideas That Matterpodcast. And today we're in Northern Michigan, Traverse City with Barb Termaat,who is the executive director of a really interesting nonprofit called Newton'sRoad Northwest. I met with her about STEM education just a week ago, and Ithought, "Oh, this would be a great podcast." A little different thanwhat we've done in the past because we're focusing less on higher ed and moreon bringing students into the pipeline of science education. So Barb, give us alittle background.

Barb Termaat (00:58):

Sure. Actually I've been involved in education for quitesome time, whether I was training adults or actually teaching children. Itaught in Germany for two years and I taught in the US in the Bay Area for fiveyears and I taught science and math and technology. We didn't have a wordcalled STEM at that time. And I always used a very hands-on approach wheneverpossible, and very careful on how you assess what students learn. And I also,during the summer time often worked at Summer Math, which was a program atMount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where we helped girls with high mathanxiety to overcome that in six weeks with an amazing shared problem solvingapproach. And we also did workshops in what today we would call STEM and I didone called Mapping the Earth. So that's kind of a basis for me. And then I wentback into industry after that. I've worked in tech, from a startup being thefirst employee to being a middle-sized company, both in the networking spaceand then moved to Cisco, a huge global company. They weren't as huge then asthey are now, but that was over 20 years ago in 1999, when we were worried theworld was going to blow up on New Year's Day.

Julia Winter (02:24):

Oh my goodness.

Barb Termaat (02:26):

Thankfully it didn't and I kept working for them for aboutanother 19 years. So then looking for what's next, I started networking. First,I was inside Cisco networking for different opportunities. And then I startedlooking here locally, where I live, because I've been leading global teams fromElk Rapids, Michigan, which is this little tiny town outside of Traverse City.

Julia Winter (02:48):

And the home of Short's brewery by the way.

Barb Termaat (02:51):

And definitely the home of Short's brewery. That's puttingus on the map in a completely different way, we love it! And so in doing thatnetworking here, um, you know, when I knew somebody that was working with TCNew Tech and they introduced me to Casey Cowl and the rest is history onworking with him on this, Newton's Road, but also some other things around itin the, in the nurturing space industry in this area. We were helping to puttogether a space forum, the second one. So yeah. And so then after my firstyear there, I became the executive director and, you know, two months laterCOVID hit, so that's been an interesting journey as well. But you know, whatwas so cool is that having worked in such an agile technology-basedenvironment, I already was used to working from home, I've been doing that fordecades. And so it was kind of going back to my roots in that regard. And so Ijust, it was like, okay, we need to change our searchable database of all thingsSTEM in this region, because that's what Newton's Road does is STEM learningand career exploration for youth K-12.

Julia Winter (04:03):

In the greater Northwest Michigan?

Barb Termaat (04:08):

In the greater Northerwest Michigan five county area.Yeah.

Julia Winter (04:09):

So what are the five counties?

Barb Termaat (04:11):

Leelanue, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Antrim.

Julia Winter (04:15):

Okay, good to know.

Barb Termaat (04:18):

So we, you know, global pandemic was declared, within 24hours we changed our searchable database of all things STEM in our region toyou have a new criteria you could search on that are Coronavirus friendlybecause we didn't have the word COVID yet either. And then you would search andit would show you anything you can do at home or outdoors.

Julia Winter (04:38):

Oh, how wonderful.

Barb Termaat (04:39):

So that's just one example of it. And, and, you know, andthen in April, when the schools found out that they were going to be closed forin-person instruction for the rest of the school year, they said, all hands ondeck, we need you to help. How can you help us get science for the younger kidsand STEM for the older kids? And so in two and a half weeks, we put togetherprograms for elementary school, middle school, high school and a coffee breakfor parents who wanted to consult with us about what they could do at home withtheir kids.

Julia Winter (05:11):

That's amazing. But how many is we? I'm going to ask.

Barb Termaat (05:15):

A very small, but mighty team using technology to scale.We are working on getting back to four.

Julia Winter (05:23):

Okay. Okay. There you go. That is small and mighty.

Barb Termaat (05:25):

We have three right now.

Julia Winter (05:27):

And it sounds like, you did so much so quickly and I doknow a lot of our listeners will put themselves back to a year ago March whenthey had to rapidly convert from face-to-face education to online education. Ithink the world just completely changed. There was so much ingenuity that cameat a really quick pace. And I'm really excited about some of the projects thatwe talked about that came out of some of that work. One of which, you know, alot of parents, as you mentioned, parents, this has been hard on workingparents, on parents of young children, and parents of high school children. Butone of the things I thought was really interesting was a way that you got someof your STEM pedagogy, your STEM activities to these students. Tell me a littlebit about that, that project.

Barb Termaat (06:20):

So actually before that all happened in 2019, I first metwith the library director and head of youth services at the Traverse Areadistrict library because libraries, they are a forward thinking library who hadstarted to have STEM activities through their services. And when I visited inthe youth services area, there were shelves of science, technology,engineering, and math toys, games, puzzles, activities, each had its own bin,and they could check them out like a book. And I thought that is amazing do allthe libraries in this area have them? No, we're the only ones. Well, could wepartner and get them in all the libraries? And that's what we've done. It didget slowed down. We got them into Elk Rapids where I live as a test site, whereI learned all about cataloging and figuring out how to do that. Then I made atemplate out of everything we did, put it in a shared drive that then shared itnow with two new libraries that came in in Kingsley and East Branch. And theytested what I had created as far as templates go. And that's how far we gotuntil when COVID hit. We got more money during that time, wrote grants and gotsome grants to keep going. So the Rotary helped us with those first threelibraries, the Rotary in Elk Rapids and the Rotary in Traverse City. And thenwe got the Biederman Foundation grant that helped to fund about six morelibraries. And then partnered with tattle, that's the acronym for the mainlibrary, to do a state of Michigan library grant to get the remaining librarieson board. So that was to get another dozen libraries on board. So all told, wehave 20 libraries in our region, which at the current moment, in this moment intime, 14 of them are now checking out STEM kits. And another three of them arein the process of getting them available. We're going to be all across theregion by the time school starts and we're super excited.

Julia Winter (08:27):

So they can use it all through the summer?

Barb Termaat (08:29):

They can use it all through the summer. And we even had,you know, there's innovation happening in that too where in one town,Frankfurt, a local teacher in second grade, I think it was, um, heard aboutthem and checked out seven of them that were age appropriate for his studentsand had a STEM day. And the kids went to stations and everybody got to playwith and interact and build and grow and test and whatever on all of thedifferent things that he had checked out. And of course they go home and theytell their parents what they did today, and then they can go check them out, youknow, later on, and so it grows, right?

Julia Winter (09:06):

So tell me a little bit, give me an example of one of theSTEM kits.

Barb Termaat (09:11):

Sure. So you, a lot of people have seen those electronickits, you know, where you can put them together, the snap circuits type of thing.That would be one example. One favorite is a sticky human body, which has allthe organs in a plastic case, in a body shaped case, and you have to put themtogether the right way, but they're squishy. And the kids, it's just like thewhole set, the whole experience because they're squishy like the body'ssquishy.

Julia Winter (09:38):

And so these are what age level?

Barb Termaat (09:40):

Well, they say like age five and up. If you're older, thenyou can, well, we had a three-year-old playing with it because he just loved itso much. And what he could do was try and match them to a sheet that showed allthe organs. So he wouldn't know what they're named, but you had an adult withthem and they could say and point to where that is in his own body. But thenfor student who could start reading, they could read and say what they are. Andthen there's a whole diagram of the flow of how digestion works. And so you cankeep growing with these activities over time, how you interact with them, how astudent interacts with them will change over time. And many of them also haveextension activities that you can do online or with other things around yourhome to extend the learning further. And then there are some that maybe, youknow, there's other ones that are more construction sort of based likebuilding. Some of them are strategic like stick placement and with anotherperson and whoever drops the stick, you know, loses how many can you geteverybody get rid of their sticks, kind of a thing who's going to drop it. It'scalled stacksis. That's another popular one. But there's also, we have anarchitecture one in Elk Rapids.

Julia Winter (10:57):

Who designed these?

Barb Termaat (10:59):

Well, we just buy them off of Amazon. And then the thingis that to make it into a STEM kit is when we put them in the bins and we havea parts list for everything that's in there. And so that you can see thatyou've got everything to bring it back to the library whole.

Julia Winter (11:15):

You want that, that's important.

Barb Termaat (11:15):

We want it hole. We offer, some libraries, us includedwhen we started this in Elk Rapids is we put a photo of what it looks like whenit's all together on the inside of the lid. And we also on the backside of theparts list, have a QR code that will take you to our website, where you canfind a whole bunch of other STEM-related things to do in our region.

Julia Winter (11:35):

Oh, wonderful.

Barb Termaat (11:36):

So we're trying to always not have it be an isolatedexperience, but something that you could connect to something else that youlike to do.

Julia Winter (11:43):

Did you have any winter outside activities or were theseall indoor kind of things?

Barb Termaat (11:49):

They were indoor type things. One of the things that we'reexploring doing with some environmentalist in the region is being able to havean outdoor experience with like a test kit. It would have replaceable parts,meaning like if you were going to have pH tests, then you would need to putmore of the test sticks in there every time. All of the kits that we've beenusing to date, they come and return with everything. But we're looking at someother ways to kind of extend that and that would obviously get you outdoors aswell. But we also just have a whole thing of STEM at home, which you could usewith common materials that you have at home, and you could do those indoors oroutdoors or.

Julia Winter (12:28):

It's just one of the things in the Traverse City areaoutdoors is sort of what we do up here.

Barb Termaat (12:35):

And that's why we have that searchable database. So inthat searchable database, there are like grass river, they do an amazing amountof children and family programming. And so we put all those kinds of places.Inland Seas does a lot of outdoor programming. And so we make sure that weinclude those kinds of things as well. And so you can even search the databasespecifically. I want to see what I can do outdoors, and you could even pickwhich counties you want it to be in. So like you don't have to travel an hourand a half to get there.

Julia Winter (13:06):

So how do you, how many people access your materials atNewton's Road?

Barb Termaat (13:11):

Well, it does vary. It's seasonal. To be honest, duringthe summertime, it's lower, because like you said, we're an outdoor areaeverybody's outdoors, you know, because of the long winter and so you see lessactivity and we see more activity during the school year.

Julia Winter (13:25):

Which is good because we want our kids to be outside.

Barb Termaat (13:29):

Absolutely. And some of those things we will, I call itlayer in, on activities that are already happening. So in the past we hadsomething in Traverse City called Friday Night Live, which hopefully not thisyear, but maybe next year will come back and we get a table there. So you couldtry all things STEM from the STEAM maker group that we're a part of. And we hadall these tables where you could try all these different STEM things outdoors,right at this event.

Julia Winter (13:57):

In downtown Traverse City?

Barb Termaat (13:58):

In downtown Traverse City. This weekend I'm layering in ona green Elk Rapids earth day event that's happening in downtown, littledowntown Elk Rapids. There are different stations spaced out for obviousreasons. And I'm partnering with the eco kids. Two of them are going to help meinterview an environmentalist who has a station at this event. As soon as theevent is over, we're going to do our own little mini podcast.

Julia Winter (14:28):

Oh good, that's so awesome. I'm actually excited, thisSaturday, I'm cleaning up the Alberta beach with the Rotary Club from Benzie.So really excited to get out and be with people and clean up Alberta beach. Sothat's our goal.

Barb Termaat (14:40):

And what we're going to do is learn about her career.

Julia Winter (14:42):

The environmentalist's?

Barb Termaat (14:44):

The environmentalist, because this leads into the tie ofsomething else that, um, you had looked at that we're doing called the CareerInvestigator. And the career investigator is to help, this is for a little bitmore older kids, especially probably 8th through 12th grade would be, you know,kind of the prime, some kids might be able to interact with it when they're alittle younger, depending on the kid. And it's a way to explore the careers inthis area. We're a rural area and the kinds of jobs, most of the companies aresmall to medium-sized. They don't report in like major urban sectors do. Solike when the state of Michigan does programs like GoPro right now, and they'veincorporated a lot of hands-on careers and all STEM related careers, and youpull up, you know, Traverse City and it'll tell you that one of the top fiveplaces to work is I think it was McDonald's, one of the fast food chains. And Iwas like, that does not reflect, I mean, fine place to go, but that's notreally capturing all of, the healthcare industry is the hugest one in our area.We have a ton, hundreds of manufacturing, small to medium manufacturers. Wehave up and coming like 20 fathoms where we're sitting right at this moment, atech sector and space sector and ed tech.

Julia Winter (16:09):

And even the food. Yeah, there's so much.

Barb Termaat (16:12):

There's so much, it is not reflected into theproportionate of what the presence in our community is in the way these reportsare generated. And the pay here tends to be less than in major urban areas. Andso the data, people would dismiss it.

Julia Winter (16:27):

But the cost of living.

Barb Termaat (16:28):

Yeah. That's another story. That's changed a lot in a fewyears.

Julia Winter (16:35):

It's still less than on either of the coasts and down inDetroit.

Barb Termaat (16:39):

Yes, it is. Right downtown in Traverse City it can bepretty pricey. And if you're lakefront properties it can be but if you get awayfrom that, yes. You can have many family sustaining careers in our region.

Julia Winter (16:53):

That are based on science.

Barb Termaat (16:53):

Totally. So we have, you know, engineering of course, butyou know, there's things like surveying. We have an excellent surveying programhere in the college.

Julia Winter (17:07):

Tell me the college.

Barb Termaat (17:08):

It is Northwestern Michigan College. NMC for the local.And so they have a lot of fabulous stimulated programs and in their engineeringtechnologies, they have this surveying program and the industry asked them toteach this because they need so many more. There are, like many industries, alot of retirement is happening, and there's not many people going into it. It'snot a path that youth are used to hearing about and pays very well. And there'sa lot of different things you can survey, you know, you can survey land forlocal development, but you could be surveying for bridges and for major, youknow, constructions like that.

Julia Winter (17:50):

And that's a special program at NMC?

Barb Termaat (17:52):

At NMC. And so we try to bring the visibility to theseprograms. Some of them it's like these unique programs in our area for reallyhot jobs, right? And other ones may be more traditional, like in engineering,which is always for most kinds of engineering, pretty hot in terms of demand,and you have a great career. Healthcare has, you know, they can't get enoughrespiratory therapists, especially now, but even before COVID, they couldn'tget enough of these kinds of, and these are, can start after a two year degree.With very, and some of them you can start right out of high school and theytrain right at the hospital. So we're trying to make all of this importantinformation available to any parent and any youth who wants to explore what thecareers are in our region and the pathways to achieve them, whether it's goingto NMC or going to into the hospital. There are companies here who doapprenticeships, etc. So we really want to make that transparent because todayit's kind of who you know, or what you know, you know, what your parents do, oryour family or your neighbor. And that's kind of the extent of it unless youhappen to bump into something. We just want to make all the youth aware of thewide breadth of career opportunities in our area.

Julia Winter (19:16):

That sounds so exciting. And I'm really, all of these, andI went through your website and I saw even more that we can talk about. Iactually think this whole, it's more like connector. You're just trying tobuild connections between schools, between libraries, between communities,between businesses. It is a connector within a rural five County area, which ofcourse could be replicated in other places.

Barb Termaat (19:43):


Julia Winter (19:44):

So I, you know, Traverse City is unique because it'sbeautiful and it's our home. At least it's been my home for well over a yearnow, but I can see this kind of effort moved to other places. And if we canshow people how Newton's Road has been successful, interview the students, havethe students and the parents show the effect, this could be amazing. I mean, italready is amazing. I'm in awe of what you all have created.

Barb Termaat (20:13):

Well, it turns out, I mean, yes, that's absolutely what wedo. And we're working with businesses and other nonprofits and everything and,you know, libraries and things to make those connections. And sometimes thehardest thing is for the kids because if it doesn't come through the schoolaround what to do, they might not hear it. So that's something we're reallytrying to break through on. And so we're really excited about it, excited to meetyou and this fascinating thing, and hey, who knows, maybe this Kasi will be inthe library.

Julia Winter (20:48):

And Kasi, for those who don't know is our system formulti-sensory AR. That's from our Alchemie's piece. And I can see a way to makethese two pieces, the small for-profit Alchemie and the nonprofit work togetherfor the good of Michigan, Northwest Michigan, and greater Michigan. And, um,we're really happy to be a Michigan based company and happy to be working inNorthwest Michigan. So thanks Barb for explaining Newton's Road.

Barb Termaat (21:19):

Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure to get to know youin such a short time. It feels like we've known each other a lot longer.

Julia Winter (21:27):

Yup. Thanks. Bye.

Closing (21:30):

Thank you for listening to Ideas that Matter. Alchemie islaunching a Kickstarter to support the production and further development ofthe Kasi project. To become a backer visit, for moreinformation. Be a part of our growing community and join the discussion byfollowing us @LearnAlchemie on Instagram and Twitter. This podcast was createdand published by Alchemie, edited by Liz Gross, produced by Typhany Jones, andnarrated by Gianna Manchester.


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