Since my birthday is on New Year's Eve, January 1 resets both the calendar year and my age. I am a big-time resolution writer (emphasis on writer, because I am not necessarily a big time resolution keeper!). Each January I invest in a new , high quality journal and write about my goals for the year ahead. For 2018 my mantra was to “Flourish with Gratitude.” I chose this because it combines two of my favorite words:
On my daily round trip Metro commute to and from the DOE from our temporary home in Arlington, I listen to podcasts and I play Two Dots on my phone, but mostly I just sit and think. I love the ability to have the "choice of what to think about" as author David Foster Wallace spoke about in his "This is Water" commencement address (2005). Ever since I heard that speech, subtitled "some thoughts...about living a compassionate life," I've made an attempt to be more aware (mindful, to use the lingo of the day) of the minutia of thoughts that fill the void. So, anyway, while on the metro I often just sit and think, reflecting on my experiences as an Einstein Fellow and internally question if I have been able to use my short time in DC to Flourish with Gratitude. I think my answer is YES - and here’s why:
REASON 1: I've was in a "particularly favorable" (see definition of flourish) fellowship placement.
While DC is not currently a “particularly favorable environment” for me politically, my specific fellowship placement was “particularly favorable” for me personality. Within the DOE I had the time and opportunity to both feel like I was making a meaningful impact towards a successful National Science Bowl while also being able to explore my own learning and professional growth. It’s the opportunity for learning that was “particularly favorable” for my attempt to flourish while in DC. According to the Gallup Character Strengths analysis we completed at the beginning of the fellowship, my #1 character strength is LEARNER, meaning that I have, “a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites [me].” Facts. In hindsight, I can also say that the DOE placement also matched well with my other top strengths: harmony, discipline, input and achiever. Thank you Jan, and others in the DOE Office of Workforce Development of Teachers and Scientists, for your part in making my fellowship year a success.
REASON 2: I have a "particularly favorable" family.
Everyone who knows me knows that I married to the most supportive, wonderful person. Over our 24 years together, Curtis has always been the first to say "do it" when I mention a new challenge or opportunity. He doesn't balk at my chances or immediately think of the hassle to him personally. The Einstein Fellowship was no different; he supported me and our little family throughout this crazy time; moving across the country, learning a new town and moments of feeling isolated or lonely. It's been a super busy work year for Curtis, but even when he's not home we take time each night to talk about the best parts of our days. Thank you, Curtis.
Maybe there is something genetic, but our son Carrick has been equally as supportive. Even though he's "only" 13, Carrick has (at moments) been wise beyond his years. I know I was asking a lot of a kid to leave the comfort of school, friends, team and routine to move across the country and be plopped into a new habitat. There have certainly been moments of frustration for him, but overall he's displayed a real sense of adventure and openness to new experiences. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the best parts of this year has been the chance for Carrick and I to spend so much time together without the distraction (for lack of a better word) of school commitments and/or social lives. The time has been a gift and I've loved spending it with our kid. Thank you, Carrick.
As Curtis and I raise an only child, I can't help but think of my parents and what it was like for them to parent me, also an only child. I am so very appreciative for all of the "gifts" (not tangible) my parents have given me throughout my life. Their support of me throughout the fellowship has been no exception. From editing my application essays to filling their garage with our moving boxes, my parents are both emotionally and practically supportive of this adventure. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
REASON 3: I am part of a "particularly favorable" fellowship cohort.
One commute morning this past spring, I was listening to a TED Radio Hour podcast and the host, Guy Raz, was interviewing John Koenig, author of a dictionary of made up words, called "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows." His dictionary aims to fill the gaps in the English language with terms to describe emotions. I was caught off guard when Guy asked John to define the word "Monachopsis" because this "fake" word perfectly defined moments of my Fellowship.
Being in a relatively isolate fellowship position, without the hustle, bustle and vibrancy of a classroom, without the chitter-chatter of the science department lunch table, without the pressure of planning daily lessons and balancing too much grading with not enough time - I was feeling out of place, out of my "intended habitat". There were moments of this fellowship in which I felt "out of place", but as the definition of monachopsis states, I was able to "huddle in the company of other misfits"... my fellow fellows.
We are a group of twelve math and science teachers, brought together to experience a year out of our norm, collectively working toward improving STEM education for the kids in our classes and in our nation. We were able to learn together, laugh together, challenge each other and grow together, professionally and personally. It's been a pleasure to get to know each of them and I look forward to the social media tracking and "real life" reunions we are sure to have in the future. Thank you, Kim. Thank you, Ruth Ann. Thank you, John. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Becky. Thank you, Kelly. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Evan. And especially, thank you, David.
REASON 4: I have "particularly favorable" school colleagues
As I return to teaching, I am so glad that I will be returning back to a system, school and department that have been so supportive of me leaving for a year. During the application process I met with our assistant superintendent of human resources and school principal to make sure that I would be welcome back after a one year leave of absence. I wasn't willing to leave a school and job I love if I wasn't going to be able to return. Thank you, Lisa and for supporting teacher professional development and encouraging me from afar.
There is also no doubt I would have felt comfortable leaving my classroom if I didn't trust my science department teacher colleagues to carry the IB Biology load while I was away. I've poured my heart and soul into the IB Biology class I teach (this website is a testament of that) and my colleagues have more than risen to the occasion of teaching the class in my absence. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Allie. And most importantly, thank you, Steve. I'm looking forward to being back and co-teaching with you again.
I kind of feel like the Einstein Fellowship can be perfectly summarized by this Calvin and Hobbes comic:
"Is our quick experience here pointless?
Does anything we say or do in here really matter?
Have we done anything important?
Have we been happy?
Have we made the most of these precious fes [months]??"
And with that, 2017-2018 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship ... over and out.
When Kouzes and Posner (2010) asked different people to identify their most important leader role models, teachers were second only to parents.
I’m winding up my fellowship year and have already begun to kick into high gear my planning for the school year. In addition to my work as a classroom teacher, I have various teacher leadership roles within my school, district and state. For example, I am a facilitator/coach for a Critical Friends Group, I lead full staff professional development, I am on a teacher advisory board for the University of Washington College of Education and I prepare and present modules for teachers new to the profession. For me, my work beyond the classroom is not about career advancement and opportunity, it’s about service.
A focus of my professional development this year was learning about the many facets of teacher leadership. I’ve read books, attended discussions and learned more about my own leadership style. Teacher leadership can come in many forms (instructional leaders, organizational leaders, professional leaders), however in general, teacher leadership can be defined as, “the process by which teachers influence their colleagues, principals and school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement,” (York-Barr and Duke, 2004).
Schools and districts are organizational systems made up of many interacting, interrelated and interdependent components. Taking a systems-thinking approach to education means understanding that change is complex and affected by many things simultaneously. It also means that we all, including teachers, must have input to avoid what can be chaotic and frustrating shifts in school priorities and climate. My time as an Einstein Fellow has reminded me that teachers MUST have important leadership roles throughout the education system. Every teacher, at all stages of the professional continuum, has both the opportunity and obligation to be a leader. School boards, principals and teacher colleagues need to encourage, empower and create space for teacher leadership within the school system and beyond.
One way teachers should have leadership opportunity is through the making (or revising) of educational policy. Repeatedly this year, I’ve attended policy discussions for which teachers are the intended implementers of some education reform initiatives, but for which there has typically been little teacher input on the content or scope of the reforms. Earlier in the year, I attended an event on Capitol Hill that highlighted the results of a recent convocation at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine that explored teachers’ roles in advancing K12 engineering education. The National Academies report illustrated the lack of teacher voice in policy making: “As is often the case with K-12 education reform, many of the policies and practices have not been fully or, in some cases, even marginally, informed by the knowledge of practicing teachers.” As a result, there was a call for increasing the roles and significance of teachers in policymaking for K-12 [engineering] education.
Teachers are typically not policymakers, but we do possess the knowledge and experience that can contribute to the development of effective policies. I know many, many teachers who have the cognizance, confidence and aspiration to have input and be heard. The limitation to including teacher voice in policy making is not teacher ability, want or desire. Rather, the limitations are opportunity, time and money. Opportunity: teachers need to be invited to “the table” and when present, teacher input must be valued and respected. Time: teachers need to be given the time away from the classroom, guilt-free, to participate in the discussion. Money: teachers need to be compensated for our expertise.
Hmmm…. A recipe for teacher leadership success = Opportunity + Time + Money. Seems like a perfect summary of my time in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship.
Throughout the year, I’ve been keeping a running list of “things to blog about.” The list is too long and time time too short for me to write extensive posts for everything on my list. With just a week left as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, I am going to use this entry to write about experiences about which I have not yet written so that I have a record of all I have had the opportunity to do and see. This post is mostly me word vomiting a brief description (some heavily pulled from formal agendas) of all I’ve done so that I’m less likely to forget as I return to the reality of teaching back home!
In January, we explored topics faced by teacher leaders and practiced using the logic model developed by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). We problem solved common issues found in school systems and used a ‘critical friends’ type protocol to refine the goals, activities, and measurements for impact to address the dilemma. As a critical friend coach in my home district, I especially enjoyed the deep thinking and collaborative problem solving in which we engaged.
Some of the work we completed using the ASCD protocol for Teach-to-Lead
Between January and March a small group of Einstein fellows worked in a collaborative group to complete a Stanford course on using and developing performance assessments related to the Next Generation Science Standards framework. The course involved learning about the three-dimensions of the NGSS and how to use performance assessments in the classroom. We developed a student focused, embedded performance assessment that had students using authentic epidemiological data about cancer rates around the United States to make and support claims about the effects of smoking on cancer development.
Between January and March I was also participating in a series of three online evolution course offered through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The courses, which required about 10 hours to complete, focused on the mechanisms of evolution, sources of evidence supporting evolutionary theory and patterns of evolution, including phylogenies and macroevolution. Not to sound arrogant, but honestly I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know. However I did make notes about how the information was being presented (scope, sequence) which will certainly inform my future evolution unit plans.
Carrick and I had a great February night at the National Museum of American History learning from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about how invention, innovation and STEM education can be a powerful tool to fight social and racial inequalities and injustice. This was actually our second time seeing him; he was in Seattle a few years ago and we heard him talk about sticking out (literally) while he was in middle school and how his middle school experience really framed his perspective in life. He is humble, confident, smart and inspirational.
The cyclical nature of the Einstein Fellowship was evident when in March our current cohort of Fellows participated in the interview weekend for the 2018-2019 batch of teachers. I was reminded of the excitement and uncertainty of being a candidate and the true honor it is to have been selected as a Fellow. The applicants were incredible, accomplished educators and it was wonderful to be able to spend two days chatting about teaching and comparing teaching scenarios. I assisted with two days of interviews and can attest that the quality of educator who applies for this Fellowship is stellar. I’ve already made contacts with a few in the incoming cohort and I hope their experience is as rewarding as mine has been.
Also in March, fellow Fellows Kelly and Jennifer lead our group through a discussion and reflection on internalizing the growth (vs. fixed) mindset as educational leaders. We examined research, participated in activities steeped in educational psychology and examined high profile cases of the “Power of Yet” to deepen our knowledge of a familiar and longstanding concept in education.
In April the Fellows had the opportunity to collaborate with the teams at the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures. We discussed educational equity and equitable access for all students, how to communicate with local and state policy decision makers and how to effectively communicate to drive change in education. A theme was the shared governance of education, from local districts to federal programs and how the various levels of government work together and drive education reform.
In May we visited the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum and learned about intellectual property and trademarks at the United States Patent and Trade Office. We modeled the creation of an invention and learned the differences between patent, trademark and copyright. I especially liked learning about plant patents and the guidelines that must be followed for being credited with “inventing” a new plant. For example, the plant can not naturally occur in nature, must be asexually formed (ie through grafting) and can not be a tuber (no potato patents)! I am a big fan of the Hass avocado ,which originated from a single grafted tree produced by Rudolph Hass in 1926!! The tree was patented in 1935 (the first patent on a tree in the US). Today the Hass avocado accounts for 80% of avocados grown worldwide and is a billion dollar industry. However, Mr. Hass only made about $5,000 for his invention because cuttings from single trees have been propagated to form whole new orchards. Makes for a great story for when I am eating guacamole with all of my biology loving friends.
I’ve been trying to get out and about to take advantage of opportunities happening in DC. In May, my husband and I spent an afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery. I challenged myself to find all the portraits of scientists within the museum. According to their website, there are 31 scientists who have portraits on display in the museum. I couldn’t find them all, but I certainly enjoyed an afternoon taking on the challenge!
I was also about to go to a book signing and talk by two of my favorite science writers. Ed Yong is a science journalist who reports for The Atlantic and Carl Zimmer is an award-winner New York Times columnist and the author of 13 books about science. I couldn’t miss the chance to see him them in June when Carl was in town to promote his newest book, “She Has Her Mother's Laugh.” The room was packed, but I was able to see and hear Ed and Carl banter about genetics, science and science communication in the Trump era. It was an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t living in DC for the year.
Another highlight was the Safe Zone training provided by Fellow David in July. Safe Zone trainings are opportunities to learn about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality and to examine prejudice, assumptions, and privilege associated with different identities. I always appreciate open and honest conversations and the Safe Zone training was a good reminder that our impact as educators is reliant on us understanding our own identities (sense of who we are, where we come from, and what we believe) and having empathy for our students and their unique identities. Empathy is foundational for building bridges between individuals, understanding each others' complex emotions, gaining a diverse perspective, and leveraging relationships for learning and progress.
Throughout the Fellowship we’ve been hosting monthly “Twitter Chats.” A Twitter chat is a public Twitter conversation around one unique hashtag; we’ve been using #EinsteinFellows17. This hashtag allows anyone to follow or participate in the discussion. We’ve virtually chatted about the AEF program and application, the STEM educator pipeline, professional development opportunities for STEM teachers, STEM education and the media, the teacher leadership career ladder, STEM learning in informal settings, the achievement gap in STEM education, measuring teacher quality, makerspaces and social/emotional learning in the STEM classroom.
The Einstein Fellows met for the last time as a group last week at our “end of year roundtable” (which was not actually at a round table, which I found disappointing :-)). Our group reflected on our year and our development as leaders and educators. It was incredible to hear the many stories, experiences and opportunities that the the Einstein Fellowship has provided. The Einstein Fellowship is the like the pebble that triggers a ripple effect. It’s an an opportunity that causes change in teachers that will ripple across the “water” of the STEM education ocean.
Last week Carrick (my son) was at a week long day day camp in which he built and programmed a drone. As a 13 year old, he is on the front-line of the education initiatives focused on creating a workforce ready to design and build our engineered future. He had a great time at camp learning about electronics, computer programming, engineering design and of course, how to fly a drone! Observing his experience triggered my reflection about my own learning this year outside of my life-science comfort zone about computer science and engineering design principles.
Carrick’s attendance at a drone camp was inspired by two events. First, there was an interactive drone demonstration at the Techstravaganza we attended at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology. Secondly, our family had the chance to visit the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and learn about the technology and biology being used to conserve some of the planet’s most endangered animals. We were able to visit the lab in which the tools used to remotely monitor animal populations are designed and built. The SCBI is committed to finding ways to track animals without disruption, including the use of radio collars and drones. Carrick mentioned that he thought it would be a cool to have a job designing and flying drones for wildlife management. BINGO! Authentic and relevant motivation for learning about engineering, designing, building and coding.
Kids need to learn about science, engineering, and technology because not only do they permeate nearly every facet of modern life but they also hold the key to solving many of humanity's most pressing current and future challenges. Carrick is lucky in that he has parents that have the time and financial resources to supplement his education with enrichment activities like a drone summer camp. While lots of kids have the interest, curiosity and motivation, not all kids have the opportunity for summer education enrichment. Luckily, engineering principles are a growing part of K-12 education. The National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) states that, “Teachers at all grade levels increasingly are using the principles and practices of engineering to capture the attention of students, improve their learning of STEM and spark their interest in engineering careers.” Reforms stimulated by the Next Generation Science Standards are reinforcing this trend, as the NGSS standards codify the opportunity for integration between science and engineering practices. As of now, nineteen states plus the District of Columbia have adopted the NGSS and another 12-14 have adopted standards that are based on NGSS (in some cases, the state standards are identical to the NGSS but for political reasons they are repackaged by the state).
Throughout the fellowship I have seen how many different careers rely on knowledge of engineering principles. For example, in February the Fellows went "behind the scenes" at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. We were able to see the exhibit design workshop, the photography studio and the paper preservation lab. Each stop on our tour provided an example of how people are applying STEM knowledge to creative careers and how the engineering design-test model is relevant to so many different applications.
In addition to engineering, this year I have also learned more about computer programming. A highlight was learning about computational thinking and computer science with the Raspberry Pi during one of the Einstein Fellowship professional development meetings. The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer which can be connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The Pi can be used to understand how computers work and are programmed. During our PD, the fellows explored circuitry and physical computing by using GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi interface with electronic components such as a breadboard, jumper wires, and LEDs to code a flashing light! I was super proud when mine light started flashing!
I plan on taking some of my newfound knowledge about engineering and computing back to my classroom. I am motivated to try a lesson I found in which students code an LED light attached to a Raspberry Pi to flash in accordance with their heartbeat! Given his new coding and engineering skills, I might have Carrick help me with the project!
Back in February, the Albert Einstein Fellows had the opportunity to explore how the National Geographic Society connect STEM and geographic literacy. We spent an afternoon at the Society learning about their education initiatives and visiting the engineering imaging laboratory. We met with the lead engineer with National Geographic Remote Imaging team, the group that facilitates the building of unique imaging tools and equipment for the National Geographic Society. Some of the equipment includes the dropcam, a camera that can film in some of the deepest regions of the world’s oceans, and the Crittercam, a camera attached to wild animals that can record video and audio as well as collect other data. The day of our visit they team had just finished testing of a camera case designed to withstand the immense heat of a raging wildfire. It was SO COOL to see the science and engineering that is used to create the iconic images and videos that the National Geographic Society is known for producing.
We also learned about the National Geographic Society education resources and opportunities for professional development. The National Geographic Society played a huge role in my trajectory as a teacher. I received a grant from the National Geographic Society for my first ever Earthwatch expedition in 2004. On that expedition, I wrote a reflection that has served as my “touchstone” during my education career. In a way, I have the National Geographic Society to thank for my 100% confidence that the statement that “those who can’t … teach” is a fallacy. I can “do” science but I chose to teach.
Since that initial experience, I have taken students on an additional ten expeditions. While no long directly associated with Nat Geo, the Earthwatch expeditions my students and I participate in definitely mesh with the National Geographic Society’s missions of exploring and protecting our plant while inspiring new generations through education initiatives and resources. Given impact and mission of the National Geographic Society, when the Einstein Fellows visited I was excited to learn of the educator certification program. “The Educator Certification program equips educators with the resources and training needed to teach students about the world in innovative, interdisciplinary ways. Benefits of certification include professional recognition; connection to a community of like-minded educators; and access to resources, mentorship, and leadership opportunities with National Geographic. Through this program, educators will learn about the National Geographic mission, how to teach interdisciplinarily through various scales and perspectives, and the National Geographic Learning Framework—all while applying these ideas to their own work and collaborating with educators worldwide.”
I immediately began work on my certification process. First was participation in a virtual workshop where I learned about the National Geographic Learning Framework and the thousands of educational resources and opportunities available to educators. Emphasis during “Phase 1” of the certification process was on the attitudes, skills and knowledge of the explorer mindset.
Phase 2 consisted of teaching two lessons that related to the Nat Geo Learning Framework and a teaching resource or lesson available through the Society. How was I going to teach two lessons while I don’t have any students? No problem! In April I traveled with a group of kids from my school to Costa Rica for an Earthwatch expedition during which we assisted on a study of frugivory and seed dispersal. The week with students enabled me to complete my Phase 2 lessons with no problem.
The final component, Phase 3, involved creating a capstone video to showcase one of the lessons from phase 2. I was tasked with creating a video that tells the story of the lesson, the impact it had on the students and demonstrates my professional growth. In all the other teaching videos I have created (i.e. National Board Certification and Presidential Award for Excellence) the videos were uncut and unedited. For the capstone project however the video needed to attempt to capture an audience and tell a story (attributes that Nat Geo is quite known for). So, I spent quite a bit of time trying to edit together video clips and photographs for the final project. Shout out to my husband Curtis for capturing some video of me, even if it’s obvious I’m looking above the camera! Oops!
I’ll find out if I met certification standards within 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, I have really really enjoyed the process of learning more about the National Geographic Society education philosophy and capturing the story of our work in Costa Rica!
My fellowship year is winding down and I am finally making time to write about some of the things I’ve done earlier in the year that have been on my “to blog” list but I haven’t gotten around to yet. Mostly I just want to document my experiences because I know that in hindsight this year as an Einstein fellow will feel like a blur. The recent 4th of July firework spectacular reminded me of another display of holiday lights, Christmas!
Way back in December I joined with the two NASA fellows to attend a lecture by Dr. Miguel Roman, a research physical scientist and remote sensing specialist in the Terrestrial Information Systems Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Roman’s session was about how NASA scientists are able to use satellite data to remotely sensor the Earth. Satellites provide a unique vantage point of space from planet Earth and enable us to track changes in and interrelatedness between the land, ocean, atmosphere and ice of our planet.
Dr. Roman is a Earth scientist who is on the team that created the famous “Black Marble” images of our planet at night. From 500 miles out in space, the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar Orbiting Partnership satellite uses a visible infrared imaging radiometer to observe the planet. Human societies run on energy and each night as we switch on the lights to help us function in the dark, patterns of light spread across the surface of Earth creating a spectacular visualization of our energy-use decisions. In fact, during major holidays, such as Christmas in the United States and the holy month of Ramadan in the Middle East, these lighting patterns change and can be seen from space!.
A component of NASA’s mission is to provide data and tools for others to use for societal development. The Earth at night images provides information relevant to “human centered earth-systems science research.” Energy use is dictated by the routines of the communities in which we live and the NASA satellites technologies allow us to observe shifts in energy use in time and space. For example, the images can be used for tracking migrations and demographic changes, monitoring disaster response, and verifying claims made by energy providers.
The images are not easy to create! Each pixel of the image is about 3 X 3 city blocks and there are challenges in removing “light noise” captured by the satellites so that only human generated light is displayed. For example, light from the moon, reflections off snow, fires, lightening and aurora must be subtracted from the data prior to display. Additionally, there is the problem of vegetation blocking and scattering light. The final map of Earth at night that we see is actually a composite image collected from 5247 orbits of the satellite collecting 42 terabytes worth of raw data!
Dr. Roman's session was really "lit" and I learned a lot that will "light up" my future instruction of Earth systems and human impact! 🔥 🔥 🔥
It’s summer, and in any typical year that would mean I am enjoying a break away from school. This year however, I actually find myself missing school a little bit. I’ve missed the energy, vibrancy, borderline chaos and joy of spending my days in a school. So, as my fellowship year progressed, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit schools to learn about their STEM education programs.
In January, I visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria to serve as a judge of their annual science fair. The science fair is a district wide event for middle and high school students. The event was a pretty typical science fair, with students presenting the results of their independent investigations. It was interesting to hear from students about their projects; as is typical some of the kids were totally into their projects while others were pretty apathetic! From a logistics standpoint, I was super impressed by the effort to recruit and train volunteer judges from around the community. I hope to take a bit of what I experienced back to my home school for our Group 4 Project community symposium.
In April I was able to visit two schools during my visit to the Pacific Northwest National Lab. Delta High School is a small, public high school for students living in the Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco School Districts. At Delta, students are brought together from a variety of backgrounds to create one collaborative community. The faculty is dedicated to creating a highly-personalized, open, and trusting learning environment for all students and their families. STEM is woven into every subject at Delta High School with students engaging in inquiry, problem-solving, and project-based learning. I was inspired by the vision of the school.
Next on my school visit list was Chiawana High School, a large comprehensive high school in Pasco. The students and teachers in the school are able to take advantage of their proximity to the Pacific Northwest National Lab by participating in STEM workshops and academies hosted by the lab. I was able to visit a ninth grade physical science class while they were working on a design engineering challenge. It was great to see kids so engaged in their learning.
In May I was able to visit the Calverton School, a private school in Maryland with just 300 students K-12. The school is so very different than the large comprehensive public high school in which I teach, yet there are many similarities between the schools, especially around the commitment toward the social-emotional well being of our students. I really enjoyed spending time in the classroom of Dr. Mathers, the IB Biology teacher at the school. She and I had previously met virtually through social media, so it was nice to finally put a face with a name. We chatted about the internal assessments, the extended essay and course sequencing. That might not sound to exciting to the average person, but for me it was GREAT!
I was also able to spend time at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. “TJ” is a public STEM focused school with a selective admission process. The school consistently ranks as one of "America's Top High Schools." The students at the school annually host a Techstravaganza, a hands-on STEM activity fair that attracts thousands of visitors from the DC area each year. My son and I spent a few hours exploring the school and the 50 different labs and demonstrations the students were presenting. I was actually able to take away some great lesson ideas!
The Einstein Fellowship has provided the opportunity for me to visit a diversity of schools with a diversity of students. One thing in common has been the great work that is happening to educate our next generation of STEM thinkers, leaders and citizens.
Last December, the Albert Einstein Fellows had the opportunity to learn about primary source materials,rare book conservation and preservation science at the Library of Congress (LOC). We spent a full day learning about the history of the Library, touring the incredible Jefferson building and exploring behind the scenes of the library. The Library was established in 1800 by Congress, however just 14 years later the capital was burned and the library collection was lost. Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library collection as a replacement. Since 1870 and the advent of the copyright laws, the library has received at least two copies of all copyrighted materials from the United States and around the globe. About fifteen-thousands of new items (books, maps, music, photos, prints, sounds, movies, manuscripts) are added to the collection each day, and there are now over 150 million items! The Library of Congress is the largest, safest library in the world.
I was mesmerized and knew immediately that I wanted to spend a week at the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute learning why and how to incorporate primary sources into classroom instruction. I attended the Institute this past week and my already high expectations were surpassed! Spending a week learning about the use of primary sources with teachers of all grades from around our nation was invigorating, academically stimulating and quite fun!
We were able to participate in lessons as if we were students and then had time to reflect and discuss how we would use and/or adapt the instructional activities in our classrooms. I loved that teachers of students of all grades were able to collaborate and share ideas for modifying lessons. I was the only science teacher of the bunch, which actually was a benefit as I was able to expand my understanding of pedagogical methods traditionally only used in humanities courses.
Throughout the week, emphasis was placed on primary source analysis skills. Learning how to teach students how to examine primary sources (for example photographs, diary entries and newspapers) using a “see, think, wonder” approach. We learned and practiced strategies for considering different perspectives and modeled how historians examine sources. There was emphasis on how primary sources can be used to have students construct their own knowledge, deepen understanding of textbook material and support learning of reading and writing skills.
The Library of Congress has a rich collection of digital resources available for public access. Not only did we learn strategies for searching primary sources on loc.gov, but we had the opportunity to attend an “open house” during which time subject matter experts from the various library divisions were accessible for sharing their resources and collections highlights with the teachers.
Teachers in the Institute were asked to develop a primary source activity plan; a lesson that we will use with students that incorporates the use of primary sources and analysis tools we learned about during the week. There was time each day dedicated towards finding primary resources relevant towards our student and content speciacialties, culminating in a “Gallery Walk and Talk” during which time we shared our lesson ideas. I focused on using primary sources related to our understanding of the relationship between smoking and cancer. In the lesson, students examine a variety of primary and secondary sources related to the science, marketing and public policy of cigarette smoking. Students will use the LOC Primary Source Analysis tool to examine an artifact and then classify the artifacts as either “pro,” “con,” or “neutral” of smoking. Then, students will place the artifact on a graph depicting the per capita number of cigarettes smoked per year. Observation, trends and the role of science in public policy will be discussed.
The Institute ended with a discussion about the opportunities and strategies for sharing Library of Congress resources with colleagues. I hope I have the opportunity to share these resources with other teachers in my school, district and state once I am back in the "other Washington" this fall!