My Kenan fellowship has changed the way that I interact with my peers in that I greatly value my fellow Kenans, their insight and their contributions. Our school morale is low at times and establishing relationships as a support person can also be challenging, so having fellow Kenans has given me the collaboration opportunity in which to share ideas.
It has also taught me to reach out to fellow teachers within my school that also value STEM opportunities and have a desire to learn more to move our school forward. For instance, in the past I had experienced some frustration in trying to get our MakerSpace up and running and frustration in trying to get time to deliver professional development that would empower teachers to use STEM tools within our school. Instead of continuing to be frustrated with the varying priorities and trying to move these initiatives forward, I have found some solutions of my own, building in optional PDs for the staff one to two times monthly. In addition, I have encouraged all of the staff to engage in at least one yearly STEM/MakerSpace challenge.
My instruction in my classroom continues to have a driving focus on some form of STEM exploration. What has changed most is how I deliver instruction as a coach or instructional leader. As a learning coach, teachers often felt resentment toward new initiatives. With the STEM challenges, teachers are able to select one challenge per year in which they would like to participate, team up with their grade level teams, and otherwise make the challenge their own. Offering this as an option has been effective in encouraging buy-in. In addition, I have teamed up with some volunteers who help gather items for these challenges. When materials, space, handouts and other supports are offered, teachers are excited to participate in these challenges more readily.
I have sought to add more STEM career instruction to the units that I teach students as I learn more about the opportunities in the area. In addition, our local community offers STEM in the Park, which are opportunities to become more familiar with opportunities in the Research Triangle. As I learn more about the fields and the day to day of these careers, I incorporate pictures and information about STEM jobs in our area.
One of the tools that I have implemented is the use of the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) writing to learn about constructing How-to writing in an authentic situation. Students have learned ways to work together and to use a particular structure to give information on our EZ Robot. What better way to ensure students’ buy-in then giving them the chance to be the first to explore a cool, new robot! I continue to emphasize that as they sift through the manual and tutorials to get to know this piece of technology, they are simplifying a process so that any teacher or Easley student can use it with ease.
Twenty first century skills need not be taught always aligned to content curriculum but one step removed from what might happen in the actual workplace. I have found ways to incorporate their content, “How-to” or technical reading and writing aligns seamlessly, but the career-ready skills are incorporated very much the way they would see them in the actual workplace. In addition, creating an SOP requires students develop an expertise about a piece of equipment, therefore spending significant time reading and practicing with that equipment. I have also found that creating the SOP is an activity that is accessible to all. A Kindergarten student can create this with the use of pictures in sequential order, a first grader can do this with accompanying simple sentences and so forth. The differentiation comes with the expectations for each grade level and is a skill that could be used every year, encouraging students to build their technical writing skills with each passing year.
Students have maintained a high level of engagement throughout this exploration, increasingly excited to add more to their skill base. The rewards for this engagement are built-in, they move past basic understanding and further into programming the robot to dance, sing and interact. Therefore the teacher has to worry less about building in rewards and keep students engaged and be able to focus directly on the actual content.
My Kenan fellows team and I had an illuminating conversation about this very thing today. We all seemed to have come to this realization through our respective internships. Part of my intended experience at Novozymes was to work in the lab, work with research associates and work with engineers. However, it became much more diversified than that. And often, the recurring theme was that in the production process, people from all different backgrounds work collaboratively and have everything from a high school diploma or GED to postgraduate degree. At Novozymes, production technicians and engineers work together to produce the best and most effective product. There is an expectation that all levels of expertise are valued and respected. This does not operate in a hierarchy but in collaborative teams.
It is an important reminder that we should be encouraging students and helping them understand that career opportunities are diverse and have different levels of educational expectations. My own project has developed to expose students to that understanding. “Be the employee” was originally “Be the scientist”, but through discussions with my mentor, I came to see how they valued the roles that were played within the company, all playing an important part in the bigger picture.
As a teacher, this is invaluable. Why do we push and insist upon college readiness? Career readiness absolutely can translate to college readiness, and when done well, students can be prepared for both. But talent is not devalued by going through a trade school, by going to a technical school, by going to a community college. The fact is that many of these that have traveled this path are making more, sometimes far more, than those that have attended college for four years and more.
Over the last few years, my coaching with teachers has transitioned more to career skills through learning STEM. But more and more I understand that this means also to encourage students to consider technical fields and to help prepare them for that future.
My most interesting moment in my internship was observing the way in which the scientists and research associates respect each other’s expertise and just generally seemed to enjoy being around one another. This really had me feeling resolved to contribute to such a positive morale in my own school environment. Instead of hoping that others would do it, I have started the year resolved to “be the solution”.
One of my biggest challenges was to balance project ideas with complex data. I was not certain where I could apply what I was learning to an elementary student population.
Hard to say what the biggest takeaway was but I know that seeing the amount of data used on a daily basis in every facet of the production line made an impression on me. I found myself wishing that my fifth graders could see this for themselves. It has certainly impacted the direction I have taken with my project; in it students are able to be the scientist, but also be the HR, finance employee, the maintenance worker, etc, but in each and every scenario, they are immersed in data as part of their exploration.
Back to school! In fact, it’s already week three for teachers and week two for students. My ideas are still yet visions, but they are beginning to take shape. My SOP unit (Standard Operating Procedures) with our new robot has excited third graders. I know that there will be a lot of pieces and scaffolds I need to put in place. But ultimately when all is said and done, the students will create something very useful for teachers and students at Easley.
After watching the online videos and experimenting with the Bot, students will offer feedback to one another after they have completed their section of the SOP.
I am going in thinking that I might be crazy to hold such high expectations of students but if this works, it will provide many benefits to all involved, namely the teachers and students that would also like to use the Bots but don’t yet know how, as well as teaching 3rd-5th graders valuable career skills.
I look forward to updating soon on our progress!
KFP Institute was without a doubt the most memorable and pivotal professional development opportunity I have had the privilege to be a part of. I have been home for two days and I still find myself longing to relive the experience and revisit our tweets and Facebook posts. I have also needed the last two days to have a moment to sit down and reflect upon what exactly made this experience one that stood out to the degree it did.
First, is the networking. We developed bonds quickly and I noticed that I had a desire to reach out to more introverted Kenan fellows and engage them also in a way not typical of me. Somewhat introverted myself, I do perhaps waste too much valuable networking time hoping others will draw me out and not the other way around. So the networking was invaluable.
But also, in terms of the actual professional development, I found that at this point in my career, I love reading theory, but I need my PD time to be well spent with concrete deliverables that can be quickly (and seamlessly) implemented. I need examples of how teachers have also used this information in their own classrooms. I need especially cross-curricular strategies that incorporate authentic 21st century learning for students. And I need it to be varied. Opportunities for participants to share (Ed Camps accomplished this well) with facilitation and differentiated options (concurrent sessions accomplished this).
The first things that come to mind for implementation of this experience is absolutely the Citizen Science and outdoor opportunities. I am excited to learn more about Citizen Science and how it can be incorporated with my students. I am also looking forward to using goose chase with my own students and sharing it with our teachers.
I am eager to begin implementation early on using Design Thinking blended with Computational Thinking. As I better get to know and understand computational thinking, I will incorporate this with Engineering Design Process.
I am so thankful to be a Kenan fellow. This week has been like no other because the comraderie and sense of “being in this together” was immediate. Our fellows and Steering Committee members were so very approachable and eager to share. The learning that we experienced this week will directly translate into our classrooms immediately and take the 21st century elements that we advocate for to a whole new level.
At this point, I have attended a great many Professional Developments and worn many educational hats throughout my educational career! I feel like Kenan fellows will allow me to focus on a variety of personal growth opportunities under one umbrella. The diversity of our cohort is already giving me such a varied perspective of bringing STEM opportunities to students of all ages and across all subject areas.
From this experience, I will use the relationships I am developing to fine tune my craft, learn further from my Internship mentor what content areas, skills, and opportunities to bring to my students. RTP is in our back yard, and I hope to open students’ eyes to the opportunities available in their own community and expose them to Problem-based learning and engineering fields throughout their elementary career. I also hope to help teachers infuse this exposure into their own classrooms in a seamless way.