Photograph by Ken Gabrielsen
Students aren’t the only ones with a hunger for learning. Last fall, a select group of educators headed to Silver Spring, Maryland as part of a special program that explored the latest innovations in teaching and learning. Among them was science teacher Lisa Reece from Warwick in Orange County.
The weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip was hosted by the Siemens Foundation, which provides more than $7 million each year to support leading-edge STEM educational programs throughout the U.S. “It was like a big brainstorming session with teachers from all around the country,” says Reece, who teaches biology and an independent study science research program at Warwick Valley High School.
The 50 educators from middle and high schools were among hundreds who applied to take part, and were selected after what Reece calls an “intensive” application and interview process. The program was held in August at the world headquarters of Discovery Communications — parent company of TV’s Discovery Channel and Science Channel.
Along with workshops and panel discussions, the event featured speakers such as Dr. Lodge McCammon of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina University, who is known for his forward-thinking approach to learning. Educators learned about McCammon’s “flipping the classroom” approach. Reece explains: “The idea is that kids study more of their daily lesson content outside of class time. Instead of teachers lecturing for most of a class period, class time is freed up to allow kids to do more hands-on work or explore additional topics. It can be good for self-motivated kids.”
McCammon, who created a training program to help teachers use the “flipping” concept, also developed a related method, dubbed FIZZ. Flipping requires students to do more than just homework outside of class time; McCammon encourages teachers to engage students at home by making simple, short, “one-take” videos that contain key lessons, thereby embracing the YouTube revolution for educational use. “Students can view them any hour of the day, go back over them as needed, and bring any questions to class,” Reece says.
Teachers discovered other ways to ramp up technology use in schools. Cell phones, for instance, are currently banned in many classrooms — but some educators now advocate using them as part of lessons. With certain apps that are now available, Reece says, “the kids can use their phones to log on to a related Web site during a lesson and answer questions based on what they’ve been studying.” Scores for the cyber pop quiz are immediately tabulated, “and teachers can know right away if the kids understand the material.”
The Siemens STEM program explored the value of rethinking other educational paradigms, too. “Some school science labs can be a cookie-cutter experience,” Reece says. “The kids are taught, ‘follow this step, then that step, and you’ll get this result’ when doing an experiment. They don’t really have to use critical thinking or problem-solving skills. Those are some of the things we’re trying to change.”
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The educators also conferred with federal Department of Education officials and members of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy team. But for Reece, “one of the best things about the program was meeting other teachers. It was great to connect with like-minded people trying to make a positive difference in kids’ lives.”
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