My fellowship has changed the way I interact with people in the community. I have a new perspective on how to grow as an educator. In my first few years it was beg, borrow, and steal some lessons to figure out how other people do it. But through the fellowship and seeing how other people approach their classroom, I have more the mindset now that there are multiple viable ways to lead a classroom. Some people have styles that are completely opposite of mine and they do cool things with that style. Some people have a similar teaching style, but use vastly different materials, or a project based approach. This fellowship really opened my perspective on what education is, what it means, and how we know if it is successful. It showed me there are careers outside of teaching that I could enjoy and how to use that interest to show students options they didn’t know they have. The jobs they are moving towards haven’t been created yet. They aren’t listed on career interest sheets. This fellowship gave me ammo for the small conversations with students about their futures and super dope science thingies.

Trust the Process

In my fellowship I had the chance to work with a few mentors on different aspects of our project. I had people to look to for the research and engineering side of creation and people to look to for design. Creating a final product that both works and serves a purpose requires both sides of the aisle. I am more inclined to the engineering and constructing side of things. Sitting down and working through the design process as a team seemed arduous at first. I didn’t see the use in it. I had an idea, I knew how to do it, and I wanted to just get to making. The mentors in the program challenged us not to run full steam, but to trust the process. Sometimes you can’t always feel like a winner and you need to tank one or two projects to see results. The mentors gave us a framework, and pushed us to work within that framework to explore our own creativity and building process. There were no direct orders, just suggestions from people who knew more about the process than the product we were creating. Working with these mentors has given me a desire to seek out those who understand how to go about creating, even if they do not work directly in the field of the thing being created.

Its all about who you know

As part of my Kenan fellowship I get the opportunity to grow as an educator outside the classroom. Through the Professional Advancement Institutes I gained ideas and tangible practices from other educators at a lightning fast rate. Things that I would have never discovered on my own came in fast and furious in these gatherings. So many people are doing amazing things in their classroom and all it takes to gain that knowledge is time and a space to interact face to face.
The structured time gave me tangibles, but what I have found most valuable is the in between time. The time with other passionate people chatting about an engaging topic or cool activity they did in class. Picking their brain and asking hard questions led to a place of engagement that just doesn’t happen by accident. This isn’t Friday early release mandated PD. This is sharing of ideas from professionals who care deeply about their students and their content. This is crucial to growth and cannot be forced.
Of all the PD and all the institutes the space between is where the good stuff is. Other people have learned so much and as educators they can share succinctly what is good to know and what is most useful. The time with other teachers is the best PD I have ever had and I look forward to creating that culture in my school.

In the thick of it

Early in the school year I have already transferred some of my experience into the classroom. There are so many cool apps and ways to use technology that I have forgotten who and where I picked them up, sorry for not giving credit. One specific thing I have used with huge success thus far is the team structure we used in our specific research project.
For my astronomy class I created task forces that are responsible for completing large tasks and projects. Every student has a set role of responsibility and invariably they pick slack in areas they are talented in. Having been part of a team recently, I am familiar with the dynamics of a team vs. a “group project”. When each student has a responsibility, and is held to that standard each student has a value and feels that value. Students have already expressed happiness and engagement in their teams. One team even sparked a romantic relationship. That is a side effect, not necessarily an eventuality but any way to create a class culture is good by me. Culture and shared experience is the best way to engage students and create a space where everyone feels important and valued.

An End of an Internship

What a wild ride. The internship with the ASSIST center was a rich learning experience in many ways. I learned to work with educators I never would have known if not for this project. The biggest challenge we faced was one that students will likely encounter when working in the class room. How do we not run full speed ahead with just one idea? Our group came up with a plan and wanted to execute immediately without really considering the challenges ahead. We wanted to divvy up the work and get cracking immediately. We had to stop and take time to look at labs that have been working on components for longer than we had been there. Working with the professors and being patient ended up giving us a product that was leagues better than we had hoped. Working with our mentors we could see things from different, wiser, perspectives. They were able to point out roadblocks we had not anticipated. They ended up saving us time and headaches that we thought weren’t even factors. They provided resources whenever we had a challenge. I think the biggest take away from this experience was to slow down and reach out. Other people have done similar things. I don’t know best. They can help. A high school sophomore solved a coding issue I had fought for a day with just one sentence, simply because I asked the room if they knew how to make a certain task happen. All in all it was a good, constructive blow to my pride that ended up growing my resources and knowledge in creation and exploration.

Lightning in a Bottle

How do you catch lightning in a bottle? It’s a common phrase and one that makes sense right off the bat (another interesting phrase), but how does that actually work? I mean the timing would have to be incredible. Do you have to change the size of the bottle? Does it have to be glass? All of these are ridiculous hypothetical questions because you cannot actually contain lightning in a bottle. Unless that “bottle” is a tesla coil in disguise.

I say all that to say this. Transferring my experience in a research internship setting to a universal educational product is like capturing lightning in a bottle. The experience I had are so context dependent and singular that broadening them to fit any teacher at any school given a few key parameters seems to almost cheapen it. But it doesn’t have to. The challenge is to take my perspective and bring it to a place where others can use it. Something I am not used to doing. I live in my world, isolated from all those other teachers around me. I guess the real challenge is making myself available and coming to a place where I feel i have some value to contribute to the larger amoeba of educational resources.

As a part of this fellowship, we have been tasked with designed a wearable device to benefit people with specific health challenges. My group has created a posture monitor which lets the wearer know when they are slouching. Through this whole process I have learned a great deal. Coding, wiring, soldering, 3d printing, all of these things have benefited me as a tinkerer and educator. I have been able to help my mentor organization as well. Just by playing around I have been able to share tips and tricks to making this process smoother the next time around. For example, using solid core wire makes soldering easier and make sure not to heat up the ports on the lilypad too much or they will sweat. Little things like that. I believe our device will be helpful, if not to be produced, but in a different approach to usual health devices.

What are my goals?

This fellowship has taken my classroom and connected it to the larger world, plugging students into the big picture of science community. It is no longer just Biology class. Using the research and personal experience from this summer will help dispel some of the intimidation of science. My goal as an educator is to always put students first. This experience has given me tools and perspective to supplement the information I can present to students. As a secondary consequence I can help educate fellow teachers about what is going on in the world of science academia. This work ultimately helps me reach the goal of providing a fun and updated environment for students to explore.

An Abbreviated Trip to Cullowhee

I missed the first two days of NCCAT due to a little dental mishap. I spent a few days with one less tooth than usual. Thankfully my dentist restored order to my mouth and I was on my way to the NC mountains. Skipping all the details of what went on (that would ruin the magic and secrecy) lets go straight to a post mortem. The best part of my few days at NCCAT was spending time with other teachers. I learned from them. We joked around. They talked about school entirely too much. Big topics in education floated in and out of conversation and there was an unspoken rule of open-sharing. The time spent together discussing and driving our own PD was greater than any other “develeopment” I have experienced. It was what I always wish PD would be at my school. Teacher led, applicable, and engaging. Teachers teaching teachers will always make my soul feel good.

The beginning…

As a budding Kenan Fellow, I am not entirely sure what to expect. I came into this with limited knowledge, applying solely on the recommendation of two fellow teachers whom I trust and respect a great deal. I heard robots, research, and engineering and said “sure, I’ll do that”. Now I’m in the starting gate and there are all these questions of career advancement, networking, and buzzword after buzzword. As a person with a physics background, I have a habit of simplifying problems that I find overwhelming. So put simply, I am seeking to start my “professional career” on a very high note. My teaching career is new, I don’t have much figured out yet. I still have the BT training wheels on. Now I have something to give my career a trajectory. I mean, I’m coming out guns blazing. Before I have passed the time requirements of being off the leash, I am discussing big issues with educators from across the state. Without the forced structure of the label “PD”, I can learn from people who could be my parents what to look for in this absolutely insane job. Coming in burned out and questioning, I have had a chance to look to leaders in the profession who have been doing this since I was the age of their students. The diversity in this program is only going to push my ideas further. I am looking forward to the unknowns. To learn what I don’t know. To see my blind spots. To be chastised. To give new perspective. To be rejected and challenge others’ ideas. Its is melee so far and I hope it stays that way.