Mountain Pointe teacher Dan Ray may be getting a free trip to the nation's Capitol, but that doesn't mean four days of relaxing by the pool.

Ray was chosen to represent the state of Arizona at the Siemens STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Institute and will attend a conference with 49 other high school and middle school teachers July 31 to Aug. 5 in Washington, D.C.

As leading members of their field, Ray and the other teachers will work together to build new techniques that aim to increase interest in the STEM subjects in the classroom. They will also attend lectures by prominent guest speakers, which includes the president of Siemens and a Google employee, and tour the Discovery Channel headquarters.

He said they are scheduled to work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. At the end of the conference, the teachers will give a presentation to their peers.

"It's going to be big-time rigorous," Ray said. "I'm going there as a learner with all other learners. I didn't think I would be chosen because my experience with the STEM program was limited."

Ray said the biggest hurdle to overcome when teaching the STEM subjects to students is building an interest by using real-world applications.

"The issue I have seen was apathy," he said. "Students in general, unless they are in the honors classes, they generally have an apathetic view of math and algebra."

Ray has helped curb that apathy by not just utilizing more relevant exercises, on some projects he will let the students choose how they are going to work out a problem of their choice.

"They get to choose their own topic, like how many basketballs they can shoot in a given amount of time for example, and look at the relationships between two variables," he said. "Then they use a linear-regression equation that goes with it. We also work on longer term projects that enhance normal curriculum."

Technology and how students use it to complement their learning is also another important aspect of classroom instruction.

Ray said teachers must find a balance of when to use technology, especially calculators, which can be vital in the learning process.

"The technology does help," Ray said. "I don't think it's the silver bullet but using the appropriate technology at an appropriate time can bring their learning to a deeper level."

Ray has been teaching for 16 years and started at Mountain Pointe in 2000. Teaching for that period of time, Ray said his understanding of students has been heightened, and he thinks that is why he was chosen for the STEM Institute.

"I put on the application that I am a realist math teacher," he said. "Some teachers have a grand vision, but I've been teaching for 16 years and I can see what will and what probably won't work in the classroom."

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