For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of being an Einstein Fellow has been the opportunity to deepen my own understanding of scientific principles and practices. I have tried to take advantage of any and all opportunities aligned with one of my professional development goals: "As an Einstein Fellow, I will strengthen my own scientific content knowledge so that students benefit from an added depth, breadth and interdisciplinary connections."
Here's a sampling of some of the science learning opportunities I have had the chance to participate in as a Fellow:
National Institutes of Health Systems Biology Symposium
In October I attended the 2017 National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Systems Biology Symposium at the National Institutes of Health. The two-day conference focused on the latest research from five key areas of systems biology: single-cell systems biology, imaging-based systems biology, quantitative proteomics, systems biology of metabolism, and large-scale data integration. It was really incredible to be a fly-on-the-wall in a room full of research biologists as they presented results, questioned each other's methods, established research partnerships and engaged in academic discourse. I was able to learn some new things that I will be able to incorporate directly into my classroom next fall. I took pages and pages of notes!
Georgetown University Mini-Med School
Georgetown University offers a series of courses as "mini-med school." The weekly lectures follow the traditional disciplines that medical students encounter and that span a variety of topics related to biomedical sciences and health. The sessions I went to were:
Amazing Things Panel
Amazing Things is a podcast sponsored by United for Medical Research (UMR), a group of biomedical research advocates including patients, scientists, families, venture capitalists and members of the public. The goal of UMR is to increase dedicated federal funding dollars to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world leader in biomedical research. During a live recording of the Amazing Things podcast, NIH funded scientists shared their research innovations and discoveries. I was able to learn cutting edge applications of the biology I teach to high school students and gain further insight into the nature of the scientific process.
Science on the Sphere
Our cohort of Einstein Fellows had the opportunity to visit the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) "Science on the Sphere." The sphere is illuminated by projectors and is used to visualize 500+ NOAA data sets on a Earth-wide scale. NOAA data is collected from multiple sources, including low Earth orbit satellites, geostationary satellites, and ocean buoy networks. Together, the data allows us to develop understanding and models of Earth's weather, climate and and ocean behavior (including temperature, wave height, turbidity and salinity). Collectively, NOAA collects over 20 terabytes of data everyday, a figure that is incomprehensibly large.
A highlight of the day was hearing from Dr. Walter Smith, a geophysicist with the Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry within the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction. Dr. Smith shared his educational history and how an man without a high school diploma can forge a path culminating in a model that allows prediction of ocean depth using gravitational distortion measurements collected using satellites. I was mesmerized by Dr. Smith's passion for ocean science, mathematics, modeling and science communication.
The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) is a non-governmental organization that is able to pair high school graduate information with college registrar information to track student transition post-secondary and through college completion. They have access to data from 97% of the nation’s post secondary institutions and about 40% of the nation's high school graduates. Such a large data set enables comparison of college progression rates across state lines and dis-aggregation by high school characteristics (i.e. income, minority, locale). The NSC creates an annual Benchmark Report which includes data for:
Last week I attended a session at the US Capitol for a discussion of the Benchmark Report during which the following findings were shared:
Students who graduate from schools that serve low income or high minority populations are less likely to start college in the first fall after high school graduation. Graduates from low income schools had the lowest "first fall" college enrollment rates.
High school graduates in the class of 2010 that attended high poverty/low income schools had the lowest college completion rates. Although slightly more than 50% of kids from high poverty schools begin college immediately after high school graduation, less then 20% of the high school graduates will complete a college degree within six years post graduation. (This is the percent of students who earned a college degree out of ALL students who graduated high school, not just those who graduated and enrolled in college.)
Given the nation's emphasis on STEM education initiatives, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) tracks college degree completion by STEM major. Across demographics, no more than 16% of high school graduates complete college with a major in a STEM field. Furthermore, students from low income schools who do graduate from college are less likely to earn a degree in a STEM major than other students.
A further breakdown of STEM majors was shared, showing the distribution of fields of study among high school graduates from the class of 2010 who did earn a college degree in a STEM field. Interestingly, I learned that the social sciences (such as political science and sociology) are considered STEM fields. I personally wouldn't have thought so, but the National Science Foundation provides a list of approved STEM fields of study which includes the social sciences and psychology. As can be seen in the distribution of STEM degrees, the majority are in social sciences and psychology followed by biological and agricultural sciences. The least STEM degrees are awarded in Earth, Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences. I can't help but wonder if the structure of our K-12 school systems is a major contributing factors in these results.
I went to Google and searched up "network" and was most drawn to the definition of a network as "a group or system of interconnected people or things." I've written about the theme of "building a network" in a previous post and yesterday the Einstein Fellows met again as a group to add to our growing networks.
I am happy to have had the opportunity to add three additional organizations to my network. As an Einstein Fellow, I've had the opportunity to explore Smithsonian Learning Lab, AAAS Science in the Classroom and Discovery Education.
The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a powerful platform for teachers to access more than a million digital resources from the Smithsonian collections. During our Fellowship orientation, we had the opportunity to explore the resources and curate our own collections. I built a collection to represent the Nature of Science learning statements in Topic 1 of the IB Biology curriculum. I found the platform to be user friendly and engaging and look forward to a deeper delve into the resources.
AAAS Science in the Classroom curates primary research Science papers and makes them available for students. The articles can be viewed through different "Learning Lens" which facilitate the learning of the Nature of Science. Articles can be searched by keyword or found in thematic collections. It was a pleasure to spend a day learning about the resources, their alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards and chatting with other educators about classroom implementation of the resources. I will definitely be utilizing the SitC resources when I return to classroom teaching next year.
Yesterday the Einstein Fellows had the opportunity to visit the Discovery Communications headquarters to learn about the STEM philosophy held by Discovery Education. Beyond Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Discovery views STEM as a cultural attitude of "Student and Teachers Energizing Minds." As part of the #1 nonfiction media company in the world, Discovery Education is able to harness their vast collection of resources and connections to subject matter experts to offer streaming media, "techbooks", professional development, virtual field trips and so much more. I was motivated by the presenters (@stemboss and @STEMigo), especially their message of using stories to connect to students and teach content. I have always been a conscious story teller in my classes (even if sometimes students think we're going on a tangent...) as a way to build relevancy and interest about what I'm teaching. I'm intrigued with the idea of harnessing my own story as a way to grow my voice and expand influence within my networks.
Being an Einstein Fellow has afforded me the opportunity to engage in federal education policy much more deeply than I ever did as a classroom teacher. While I was familiar with laws that affected my students and myself, I was relatively disconnected from the policy realm. Being in Washington, DC has given me the opportunity to attend and learn from discussions and presentation about federal educational policy that directly influence classroom teachers in my home district and state.
The first major federal K-12 public education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed by President Johnson in 1965. Since that time, the law has been periodically reauthorized and has seen numerous changes, both in name and in mandates. Beginning in 1988, in order to receive federal block grant funding, states were required to include annual accountability measures (student test scores) and improvement plans. In 1994 (Improving America's Schools Act), schools began to be singled out for not making "adequate yearly progress" and in 2002 (No Child Left Behind Act) the testing requirements were significantly expanded and all teachers were required to be "highly qualified."
In 2015, the ESEA was reauthorized as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Act passed congress with bipartisan support and actually narrows the federal government's role in public education relative to its predecessor (NCLB). While annual standardized testing is still required, the ESSA give states significantly more discretion over accountability measures, teacher quality, professional development, after-school programs and 21st Century Learning Centers.
“The Every Student Succeeds Act will put an end to the one-size-fits-all mandates of No Child Left Behind. And it will end the era of state waivers. That will give teachers and parents in Washington state and across the country some much-needed certainty. Our bipartisan bill will also reduce reliance on high-stakes testing, so teachers and students can spend less time on test prep and more time on learning. I know that’s going to be a major relief for teachers and principals…”
The ESSA Law is fulling going into effect during the 2017-2018 school year. States were required to submit ESSA plans to the US Department of Education by this fall. If you are curious, the state plans are all publicly available. Recently I attended a public meeting hosted by the STEM Education Coalition called "STEM in the States: Impacts of the Every Student Succeeds Act." At this event, a three group panel presented information related to how the changes in ESSA might impact STEM education.
EducationFirst aided multiple states in writing their ESSA plans. The following trends were noted:
The Afterschool Alliance described the high demand for STEM in after-school enrichment programs. Roughly 7 million kids benefit from after school and/or summer STEM programs, which excite interest, teach STEM skills and allow students to identify and value STEM in their lives.
Battelle shared a case study of the impact of STEM focus in a school and their work to share effect STEM education work via states in their STEMx program.
A question-answer session followed the panel presentations, with the following take-aways:
While the questions remain, there is no doubt that the education stakeholders will be advocating for what they believe to be best for kids, teachers and our nation's future.
Probably the question I have been asked most frequently is, "so, what will you be doing as an Einstein fellow?" Coming into the fellowship, I could really only reference the description available from the program website:
Fellows spend eleven months working in Federal agencies or in U.S. Congressional offices, applying their extensive knowledge and classroom experiences to national education program and/or education policy efforts. At the end of the Fellowship, educators are prepared to return home, equipped with access to a national network of education leaders and programs, a better understanding of the challenges and possibilities in STEM education, and a renewed passion for teaching, ready to make significant contributions to their schools and school districts.
OK, so what does that description actually look like in practice? The answer is, it depends on the fellow, the office in which they are placed, and the time of year. There are twelve Einsteins in the 2017-2018 cohort and each of our experiences in Washington, DC will differ greatly.
Five of the current Einstein Fellows are placed in congressional offices, working as part of the team supporting the representative. The Einstein Fellows are often responsible for education related issues and bills, but not necessarily exclusively. The Fellow might also work on other issues, meet with constituents or network with staffers from other offices.
Two Einstein Fellows are sponsored by NASA, involved with education programs and outreach for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and at the Goddard Space Flight Center. There are four Fellows at the National Science Foundation, working across directorates to broaden participation in STEM programs.
This year, I am the only fellow placed in the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. I am in a group focused on Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS). The WDTS program is committed to developing and supporting a pipeline of future STEM professionals and funds STEM education programs spanning from middle school to graduate student research.
As a Fellow, I will be reviewing and updating K-12 STEM resources, tracking and reporting on STEM education studies and policy movements, exploring resources available at the Office of Science National Laboratories, and supporting the DOE National Science Bowl competition. I will also be focusing on my own professional development goals. Ultimately, I hope to learn as much as possible so that I can return to school next year with a greater understanding of the national STEM education programs, issues and strengths and continue work tirelessly to motivate and encourage my students to pursue higher education and professional opportunities in education or STEM fields.
Are you a STEM educator Interested in becoming an Einstein Fellow? Applications are now open and available here. Applications are due November 16th, so act quick!
The Einstein Fellows meet once a month for a full day professional development session. Our September gathering focused on recognizing and growing our professional networks. We drafted maps of our networks and then added comments and suggestions on the each others work.
Many of the Fellows have no intention of returning to classroom teaching after the fellowship year, so I can see the value of networking; making and maintaining connections that might lead to a new employment opportunity. However, I plan on returning to classroom teaching next school year. As a result, I began to wonder about how my personal network matters as an educational professional and for the benefit of student learning. Not surprisingly, the internet provides a lovely visual graphic outlining the benefit of a network for teachers:
Given the reason that many teachers leave careers in education is because they do not feel supported or respected as a professional (see my Keep Our Teachers post), I think teacher-to-teacher networks offer a glimmer of promise. Teachers who find ways to connect, commiserate and share experiences can support each other through the challenges of careers in teaching. This is #4 in the graphic above; get support when needed. At Skyline, we have Critical Friends Groups (CFG) which serve this function. While membership in a CFG might not benefit every teacher all the time, I have found that the groups I have been a member of and/or coached in the past have been effective sounding boards for the joys and frustrations of working in schools.
You'll see I've included Twitter on my personal network map. Sounds crazy, right? But actually, it's through Twitter that I've been able to make connections an find inspiration that directly impact my students and my instruction. Using #ibbio I've been able to find great resources (#1), share my resources and ideas (#2), follow amazing educators (#3) and make international connections (#5). For a long time I was the only person in my school district to be teaching IB Biology (that has since changed), so connecting with other IB Biology teachers through Twitter was a way for me to collaborate. I encourage others to be willing to support other teachers by virtually sharing materials or asking for assistance. You'll find me at @vb_ibbio.
Beyond Twitter, I am building my virtual network by creating my LinkedIn page. Through LinkedIn I hope to be able to maintain connections with my former students and build connections with scientists willing to engage in secondary STEM education.
As one of the other fellows stated at our professional development gathering, "networking" kind of has a negative connotation to it, as if one person is using another for an individual benefit. "What can this person do for me?" "How can I connect to so-and-so for my own better good?" Yuck. I feel uncomfortable with this intention behind networking. Perhaps because I am confident that my future will see me back in the classroom I know and love, I can view networking a little differently. Those in my network are not my personal stepping stones. I am not using others to get myself further along a path, I am building my network so that everyone in it can "go far with others".
For 49 year, PDK International has been polling the American public regarding their attitudes towards the public schools. Yesterday I attended an event at the National Press Club at which the CEO PDK International (Joshua Starr) gave an overview of the poll results. Following the presentation, there was a panel discussion about the implications of the findings for education stakeholders.
We all know too well that poll results can be misleading or incorrect, so we must have a healthy sense of skepticism around any findings. However, the PDK poll on education does follow a rigorous methodological process. In all, the results I'll share here are drawn from a sample size of 1,588 adults in the national population. There is a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 to 5 percentage points, depending on which sub-population was sampled. There is public access to the full national report.
The thesis developed from the poll results is that academic achievement isn’t the only mission of public education. Under this thesis, the following key findings were shared:
After the poll results were shared there was a interesting panel discussion about the implications of the information. There was a informative civil discourse between advocates from different perspectives (listed from left to right as seated for the discussion):
Leslie Fenwick, professor and dean emerita, Howard University School of Education
Dean Fenwick commented that black parents are less satisfied than white parents with public schools. She commented that many students of color live in "education deserts" and that charter schools may be the "shelter in the storm" for families. I found her comment that the future majority in the United States (people of color) are currently the ones most suffering from being underfunded and under staffed by qualified teachers.
Rick Kahlenberg, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
Mr. Kahlenberg was heartened to know that Americans want schools to focus on broad educational goals, including interpersonal skills. He thinks the poll results show a clear public support for public schools. He commented that our nation should not, "outsource education to schools that don't have a core mission of supporting democracy."
Antwan Wilson, chancellor of DC Public Schools
I found Chancellor Wilson to be a powerful voice for the need to focus on the whole child. He said, "Academics are really important and LOVE is really important in schools." I think his comment is important for people to hear, especially since so many teacher enter the profession because they love kids and want to make a difference on individual kids lives. What's more, it is well established in educational research that kids will learn better from teachers they know care about them as individuals. "Our students need to FEEL the love we have for them." Love that.
Tamir Harper, Educators Rising national student vice president
Mr. Harper is a high school senior and future teacher. Can I just say that I wish more students at my school were considering a career in education? Mr. Harper spoke to the need to diversify the teacher workforce, stating that he didn't have a teacher of color until 9th grade and until after he went to school outside his neighborhood. His comment is not surprising, given that only 2% of nation's educators are black males and only 40% of our schools have any teachers of color on staff.
Jeanne Allen, founder & CEO, Center for Education Reform
I had the strongest reaction to the comments of Ms. Allen, an advocate for the parent choice/ school voucher movement. She seemed to imply that teaching and schools haven't changed for a hundred years. I think she is wrong on that point. Educational research and pedagogical advancements have changed the way schools educate young people. Henry Ford would not understand the value of many of the instructional approaches used in my classroom and those classrooms of nearly all of the teachers with which I interact. I'm sure Mr. Ford would have serious questions about why my students are dancing in class, why students are working together to problem solve without the teacher and why no textbooks are being used in the classroom. That said, Ms. Allen made a very good point when she stated that "information is no longer a commodity," suggesting a reason why many feel that interpersonal skills are so valued in schools.
The presentation session finished with a philosophical question, raised by PDK International CEO Joshua Starr. He asked, "Is education a private commodity or a public good?"
The question is posed to force a dichotomy in the answer. Me or us? The individual or the community? Of course, the answer can be both. In my opinion, K-12 education is about preparing an individual for life beyond high school (college and/or jobs) but also about ensuring our citizenship is educated and that our democracy works for the service of all.
This week definitely marked a transition week for me, from classroom teaching (big fish in little pond) to exploring all that the Albert Einstein Fellowship will allow me the time and resources to explore (same size fish, much bigger pond). To be honest, early in the week I was feeling uncomfortably out of my comfort zone, even wondering if I was dealing with a bit of an inferiority complex; a feeling of not being competent or of personal inadequacy. So, being resourceful and a bit facetious, I did a bit of self diagnosis and took an internet quiz "7 Signs of Inferiority Complex". Long story short, I don't have an inferiority complex or imposter syndrome, I was just feeling lonely as a little fish in a big pond.
Don't worry, the feeling of loneliness only lasted a couple of days. I faced it head on and did things to not feel alone or isolated. For example, I shared my feelings with Curtis, my wonderful husband and champion supporter. He's known me since I was 17 years old, he "gets me" and was able to share his personal insight into what I was feeling. I also met some new people and started to make friends; I chatted with parents at Carrick's baseball game, spoke to people in our apartment and made some plans with some of my fellow Fellows. Lastly, I reminded myself that I'll only be here for 11 more months and that I have grand intentions for what I want to learn, see and do while I am here!
Especially helpful for me was meeting again with the other Fellows. There are 12 of us here and we've all been working in our placement offices for the past two weeks. It was nice to be able to reconnect, share experiences and ask questions together.
Each of us were tasked with bringing a photo to our meeting that represented something important in our life. I brought this photo, one of Curtis, Carrick and I hiking the 60 mile high sierra camp loop last summer in Yosemite. Each of us was asked to explain how the image connects to the Einstein Fellowship. For me, the connection is about taking on challenges, not necessarily taking an easy path, having a spirit of adventure, a sense of humor and the support of a each other in our family.
Feeling more adjusted, I am now prepared to focus on what it is I want to do while I am here. Of course, there is important work for the agency in which I am placed. However, the Fellows are also given the time to pursue our own professional development curiosities and passions. When we met this week we were able to flush out some of the first drafts of our Professional Development Plans (PDP). While still a work in progress, my goals are:
For each goal, there are objectives and activities that I would like to explore over the course of the fellowship. I've already started work towards my goals and I am excited to see where the path leads over the next 11 months.