Posted by Cathy Wang on Thursday, March 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    After graduating from Duke University cum laude in May 2014, Cathy Wang took a summer internship with the SSEC’s Professional Services Division. During her time at Duke, Cathy became interested in the pedagogy behind STEM education In K-8 classrooms while volunteering at Durham Public Schools with the American Red Cross. What follows is the first installment in a blog series detailing Cathy’s experiences at the 2014 International K-12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning (SPI). As the summer heat fizzles off and we begin to pine for autumn, the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s (SSEC) Professional Services division has been hard at work to host their final event of the summer: the 2014 International K-12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning (visit our website for more information). It only seems appropriate that the summer programming conclude with the flagship strategic planning institute – a long-standing event that the SSEC hosts to aid K-12 science educators and their partners in developing strategic plans and bringing about systemic change to uphold the highest standards in professional development and best practices in education. This week-long event began on a sunny and breezy Friday morning at the Westin in Alexandria, VA with a two-day faculty planning meeting designed to hash out the finer details of hosting an event for 30+ educators, supervisors, and community members. During this time, old and new faculty members got a chance to evaluate each person’s respective expertise and assess the team’s profile as a whole.

  • Supporting Teachers Through Formative Assessment: A LASER Alum Reflects

    Posted by Ron DeFronzo on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 ( 0 )
    Ron DeFronzo has served as a science specialist to elementary and middle school teachers through the East Bay Educational Collaborative in Rhode Island since 1991. Prior to that, Ron taught high school physics for 17 years. As a member of Rhode Island’s first team to participate in a National Science Resources Center (now the Smithsonian Science Education Center) Strategic Planning Institute (SPI), I was among a fortunate group of individuals. Through sheer timing and positioning we received a 5-year NSF grant to bring together all of the elements of the SSEC’s LASER model. Evidence of our success is a present-day, robust K-8 science program that has sustained itself for 24 years and counting. Leaders at the SPI taught us to address the five elements of the LASER model together—just like the pillars of a building that support it. When one of them is missing, it renders the structure unstable. Therefore, we pursued plans for community and administrative support, material resources, standards-based science curriculum, and professional development (PD). We could check these things off our to-do list. We had our materials resource center filled with exemplary science curriculum materials and supported by the districts we served. We had an adequate professional development program too. The fifth pillar—Assessment—seemed far more elusive, given that the teachers we were working with were only gradually coming around to the adoption of our plan. At the SPI, we learned that in order for a new program to succeed, it is critical to address the concerns of the people charged with implementing it. To that end, our PD focused on orientation to the new program. Teachers would undergo a period of mechanical use ultimately leading to routine use of the materials where they get comfortable using the materials with few changes from year to year. Not being one who is satisfied with mechanical or even routine use, I sought to move beyond these levels to even greater heights. Doing so proved difficult. We wanted teachers to refine the use of the materials through practices such as formative assessment where teachers could modify their instruction based on specific information they gather from students. My answer to moving past basic routine usage came when a staff member of the institute, Wendy, recommended that I read Inside the Black Box (Wiliam and Black, 1998). This research report on formative assessment invites the reader to think of a typical classroom as a scientific “black box.” To paraphrase, no one outside the black box has any idea what goes on inside the black box—no one. That includes me and probably everyone who is reading this. The best we can do is to send in probes and wait to see what comes out, much as scientists did when formulating the model of the atom. When I read the paper, it transformed my thinking about my work with teachers. Only the teacher really knows what goes on when the doors are closed.

  • Hydraulic Crabs and Energy Bikes: SSEATs Transforms the Classroom

    Posted by Scott Harrison on Thursday, February 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    Scott Harrison, a 6th grade teacher at Freeland Elementary School in Michigan, attended the 2014 Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers on Biodiversity in Washington, DC. The year prior, Scott attended the “Energy: Past, Present and Future” SSEAT. Scott’s experiences at these Academies have empowered him to develop new and exciting units for his classroom and pursue funding to put even more ideas into action. Congratulations to Scott and Freeland Elementary for their latest win in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest! Attending the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers has proven to be, hands down, the most beneficial training I have ever received. The academies motivated me to offer opportunities to my students that would not otherwise be possible. After learning about so many awesome hands-on and STEM-related activities, I feel better equipped to offer similar activities to my students. Thanks to the academies, I have worked to obtain multiple grants to secure funding for large STEM-based projects in my classroom. Most recently, I have taken the concept of biomimicry from the Biodiversity Academy and incorporated it into my classroom. I received a grant that will allow me to teach a full unit on biomimicry with my classes in the spring. Students will create a fully functioning hydraulic arm that mimics how a blue crab functions.

  • How to Build a Lightbulb: Bringing New Light to Science Education

    Posted by Kristin Spitz on Thursday, February 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    Two summers ago, I worked with the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) as an intern with the Professional Services department. One of the main reasons I applied for an internship with the SSEC was to help me prepare to teach high school biology as a part of my undergraduate thesis. With only one semester of pedagogical training under my belt, I was looking forward to spending a summer with passionate and experienced scientists and educators who could help me become the best teacher possible for my students. One of my primary responsibilities for the SSEC was to help plan, coordinate, and execute the Smithsonian’s Summer Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs). The SSEC offers a variety of SSEATs, but I focused mainly on Energy: Past, Present, and Future. As a college student pursuing a career in medicine but also preparing to teach science in a Washington, DC public high school, I came into the Energy Academy with a unique perspective. Because I assisted with the planning, I knew that the academy would include many hands-on activities and one-of-a-kind learning experiences in the Smithsonian museums. However, I did not realize the true value of SSEATs until I had the chance to work through some experiments and activities with the teachers. One of my most memorable experiences from the Energy Academy was when we worked with the National Museum of Natural History’s Spark!Lab to try to re-invent the lightbulb. During the activity, we used different types of metal wire, a glass bulb, and a battery to see what combination and arrangement of the wires works most effectively to produce light. Some of the wires glowed brightly but very quickly burned up within the glass bulb. Other wires gave off only a dim light but lasted much longer. Although it took us a few tries, and we burned several pieces of metal, it was precisely that experience of trial-and-error work that helped me understand how an incandescent lightbulb really works.

  • The “Non” Science Guy: A LASER Alum Reflects

    Posted by John Tully on Thursday, February 12, 2015 ( 2 )
    John Tullyis the President and COO of Michelin Development Company and a longtime advocate of theLASER model and SSEC. As our former Advisory Board chair, John has served the SSEC in many capacities and continues to work with us today. We look forward to next seeing John facilitate our2015 International SPI in Alexandria, VA on July 26-31. “Everything happens for a reason…” I am a firm believer that everything—good or not—does happen to help us through life. I have been very fortunate in my life, but it has not been without some very difficult times. It may not be apparent at the time, but there is meaning behind all that happens to us in life. My becoming involved with the SSEC (NSRC back in the day) was one of these extraordinary events. I grew up as a “non” science guy. I was better at history, writing Haiku’s, or doing a book report (I still love to read) than at science or mathematics. I took the communication route in college and ended up in business (as I said earlier, everything happens for a reason!).

  • Exploring New Energy Resources through SSEATs

    Posted by Karen Manning on Thursday, February 05, 2015 ( 1 )
    Karen Manning, science teacher at the Park School in Massachusetts, attended the 2014 Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers, “Energy: Past, Present and Future” in Washington, DC. During the academy, teachers spent a week behind-the-scenes in Smithsonian museums and national research facilities.Working with fuel cells as a new and emerging technology was an incredibly impactful experience for Karen, and led her to seek out new opportunities that she could share with both students in her classroom and students across the country. Participating in the Smithsonian’s Summer Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATS) Workshop on Energy: Past, Present, and Future was a real catalyst for me personally and professionally. The discussions and exchange of ideas with the incredibly diverse group of individuals involved in the workshop—classroom teachers, museum educators, individuals involved in energy education at the national level, engineers, curators, and scientists—inspired me to want to be more deeply involved with energy education. Then hearing directly from scientists and engineers who are currently involved in new and developing energy technologies stimulated me to pursue my own investigations into sustainable energy sources, specifically fuel cells.

  • Enduring the Test of Time: A LASER Alum Reflects

    Posted by Tom Peters on Monday, January 26, 2015 ( 0 )
    Tom Petersis the Executive Director of South Carolina's Coalition for Mathematics and Science (SCCMS) and a longtime proponent of theLASER model. Tom is a recognized leader in STEM education and a recipient of the National Science Education Leadership Association's 2010 Outstanding Leader in Science Education award. He has shared his expertise beginning at some of the earliest leadership institutes held by the SSEC and continues to work with us today. We look forward to hearing about Tom’s latest endeavors during the2015 Regional Leaders Meetingin Washington, DC on May 14-15. Back in the early 2000s, one of television’s most popular shows was Fear Factor. This show pitted contestants against each other and their fears for prizes and the glory that comes from reality show exposure. Contestants typically submitted to close encounters with God’s less cuddly creatures, were challenged to eat items not typically found in restaurants or grocery stores, and were submerged in liquids of dubious origin. So, what does Fear Factor have to do with LASER?

  • Reaching Beyond Borders: 2014 Mexico SPI

    Posted by Katie Gainsback on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 ( 0 )
    Having only traveled to Mexico previously on vacations, I was a bit nervous to arrive in the capital city last month to support the Mexico Strategic Planning Institute (SPI). Knowing I could only describe my Spanish as “no bueno,” I felt anxious about spending 10 days in Mexico City with esteemed science teachers and education officials from seven states. However, what followed after SSEC Director of Professional Services Amy D'Amico, facilitator John Tully, and I touched down at Benito Juárez International Airport on December 4, 2014 was nothing short of a transformative experience. Friday dawned bright and early as we made our way across the city to the offices of our host Innovación en la Enseñanza de la Ciencia A.C. (INNOVEC), or Innovation in Science Education to non-Spanish speakers. INNOVEC is a long-time partner of the SSEC and promotes strategies to improve the teaching of science, which includes supporting the implementation of our STC™ units at grades 1-6 in Mexico through professional development, assessment, and materials support. INNOVEC operates out of La Fundación México-Estados Unidos para la Ciencia (FUMEC) or the US - Mexico Foundation for Science. SSEC’s Director of Professional Services Amy D’Amico with faculty presenter Daniel Alcazar-Roman

  • Picking up STEAM

    Posted by Cathy Wang on Wednesday, January 07, 2015 ( 1 )
    This post was written in the summer of 2014 by SSEC intern Cathy Wang. Image from The STEAM movement has been making big waves since 2010, but what is it exactly? The answer to this question is simple: STEAM is a movement mounted by advocates for including the arts in an education system that heavily emphasizes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. This heavy focus on STEM derives from a world economy driven by the growing science and technology sectors. STEAM supporters argue that pushing students towards learning “hard skills” (e.g., coding, programming, etc.) is done at the expense of the arts, which works to the detriment of the country’s workforce and productivity in the long-run. Will STEAM efforts add value to K-12 education? In short the answer is yes; but that is if, and only if, these efforts are executed in a systematic and meaningful way. Here at the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), we believe in a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to education and the dispersal of knowledge to the general public, much like the rest of the Smithsonian Institution. While the SSEC largely advocates STEM education, it lives under an umbrella of Smithsonian organizations that includes 19 museums and galleries in Washington, DC alone, the majority of which are not STEM-centric. As an intern, the SSEC embodies to me the idea that we cannot have science without art, and vice versa. If anything, the truth is that making STEM accessible and interesting for K-12 students is a goal best met when scientists and non-scientists collaborate. In this way, the SSEC represents the important intersection of the arts and sciences by delivering a curriculum that is not only rigorous, but also engaging.

  • Crosscutting Concepts: The Bigger Picture

    Posted by Katya Vines on Monday, December 01, 2014 ( 0 )
    As teachers across America contend with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), many are no doubt asking themselves whether these are really any different from previous standards. One way to answer this question is to look at the crosscutting concepts: eight broad concepts that transcend disciplines in science. As an example, look at the crosscutting concept, Patterns: Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them. The NGSS suggest that this crosscutting concept is useful for teaching topics as diverse as relationships in ecosystems, evolution, tectonic processes, and chemical reactions. On the face of it, the crosscutting concepts look very similar to the unifying concepts and processes in the National Science Education Standards (NSES). However, an important difference between the crosscutting concepts and the unifying concepts and processes is that the crosscutting concepts are now integrated into the performance expectations in the NGSS. This means that every lesson should combine disciplinary content with both crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices as discussed in an earlier post.

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