My Reflections of the Summer experience and Looking Ahead
Looking back on my summer experience with MSUrbanSTEM, a word that continues to stick in my mind is “Wow”. Wow sticks not just from me being in awe of how inspiring the MSU teachers and my fellow CPS colleagues in the program are, but “Wow” because this experience has rejuvenated my passion for teaching and learning STEM like no other professional development experience to date. This awe-inspiring experience started with the reading of Carl Sagan’s, Cosmos, before I even walked through the doors at Loyola for class. Sagan forces his readers to see our existence through the lenses of all academic disciplines. This is when I first began to wonder more about what lies ahead for me as a teacher and as a person. A piece taken from my reflective journal after day 7 of my summer experience sums this up best when I wrote, “I continue to be amazed at how well prepared our instructors are for each day, how creative and passionate everyone here is, and how I now wonder more and how much I continue to learn that will enrich who I am as a teacher and as a human being.”
There were so many engaging learning activities and experiences packed all throughout each of the 11 days at Loyola, and each day started with a “WOW” moment, which was an opportunity for individual teachers to share our own personal “World of Wonder!” And speaking of Sagan forcing his readers to see the world through various lenses, I am anxiously waiting for the arrival of my first “olloclip”, so I can share with my students more of the microscopic world I neglected to see over the years along daily walks I take with my family. Activities like these, which put me in the shoes of my students as an actively engaged learner, coupled with several insightful homework readings, make me feel like my teaching career after 15 years is now on the cusp of starting a new beginning, a kind of “renaissance”.
There were so many new teaching methods and tools that I learned that are now ready to be added to my teaching toolbox, but too many to mention in depth in just this 1,000-1,500 word essay. So one that stands out amongst all of them I borrow from MSUrbanSTEM Professor, Punya Mishra, and his article we read and discussed together this summer, “Too Cool for school? No way! Using the TPACK framework: You can have your hot tools and teach with them too.” Punya, along with his coauthor and fellow MSU Professor, Matthew Koehler, state that, “Teachers need to develop a willingness to play with technologies and an openness to building new experiences for students so that fun, cool tools can be educational.” After years of avoiding new technologies that I knew could benefit teaching and learning in my classroom, I am now not afraid to begin experiments to “repurpose” technology through “TPACK”, which stands for “technological pedagogical and content knowledge (TPACK) framework. This is my biggest takeaway of my MSUrbanSTEM summer experience, that teachers can transform teaching and learning in our classrooms for our students but we must first be willing and open to play around and experiment with them. So thanks to my summer experience, I am now on Twitter, Facebook, Google Classrooms, started my own professional teaching webpage on “Weebly”, learned how to create short video lessons for my students and upload them to my own “youtube” account, I now know how to create and share stop motion camera videos of STEM demos, and much more.
Moving forward, one of the most valuable benefits that TPACK will bring to my classroom is the idea of my students having more options to engage with learning STEM and sharing their own understanding with others in class and beyond. This summer experience was designed and delivered to us with this in mind each of the 11 days. Not only were the learning experiences, such as the “Quickfire Challenges” designed for multiple intelligences, but they were meant to be communal experiences that were shared by all. This has strengthened my belief in the power of cooperative learning, but now I have several more tools to work with to make this possible for my students and me. This is summarized by a quote that I took away from our first homework reading which states, “Learning is least useful when it is private and hidden, it is most useful when it is public and communal” Lee Shulman.
As I begin my “renaissance” in teaching this school year, which begins in a few weeks, I plan to experiment with all that I learned from my MSUrbanSTEM summer experience in a variety of ways. I will share one such way now. In the past, one multidisciplinary learning experience my students appreciated was called “Science News Article Review”. Article reviews grew into a communal experience as my students were able to use shared “google docs” when annotating their own chosen science news articles, proofreading and critiquing each other’s rough drafts, and sharing their final products in the form of printed and displayed writings. Article reviews sparked my students’ curiosity because my students were able to choose their own science news articles from a variety of Science disciplines. Now, they will also be able to have more options for how this experience will be made communal. For starters, I plan to have them introduce their chosen ideas in the form of a “WOW”, or World of Wonder. I think that this will increase my students’ engagement as both enthusiastic presenters to their classmates, and as more active listeners. This will also increase my students’ feeling of ownership of the learning that takes place in our Science classroom, which was stressed in our day one homework reading assignment from Gardner and Mansilla, “Disciplining the Mind.” I recall their thesis as teachers of Science needing to be able to “guide our students into thinking like experts within the various fields of Science”. This so happens to be the essence of NGSS as well. With starting Science News Article Reviews with their own personal WOWs, my students will be able to experience and share that all Science begins with our own personal curiosity about the world around us, as Sagan’s Cosmos reminded me throughout reading each chapter.
Instead of just the traditional text-based format of the past, now my students will have the options to “repurpose” technologies in order to enhance their own wonders and understandings of Science in the news. I plan to have them use audio/visual technologies such as MovieMaker, I-Movie, Scribd, and other programs to share their learning with each other. Not only do I think this will this help increase engagement with all of my students, but I feel that it will help motivate my students who struggle with text-based only forms of communication. I also feel empowered to seek out ways to encourage my school administration to allow our students to share their questions, ideas, and understandings through social media and blogging applications such Google Hangout, Twitter, and Facebook, some of which are currently firewalled from being used in our CPS classrooms. I am reminded of the need to transform my classroom environment to fully make use of TPACK through a quote from Punya and Koehler’s article which stated, “Teachers should construct a “space” within the classroom where these student-generated comments could be discussed. Without this, the microblogging activity remains divorced from the actual class routines and thus can be relatively ineffective.” I look forward to this journey in the year ahead of trying these new forms of teaching and learning, none of which would have even been tried by me had I not had this amazing experience this summer through MSUrbanSTEM!