Our Year in Review - Part 2

Professional services has had a very busy year!


This year brought our Department of Education i3 (Investing In Innovation) grant to a close. While it was sad to say goodbye to such a huge long-term project, we certainly made some lasting memories and increased teaching and learning outcomes for schools in North Carolina, Northern New Mexico, and the Houston Independent School District. We held Implementation Institutes in both Houston and New Mexico that were tailored to the specific needs of the region. Then we brought leaders from all three regions together with individuals and organizations that had been involved in previous LASER programs to collaborate, share ideas, get to know one another, and of course celebrate the incredible investment that the three LASER i3 regions have made in education in their regions over the last five years.

New Mexico Implementation Institute 

This Regional Leaders Meeting coincided with the LASER i3 PLC Forum and the 30th Anniversary of the SSEC. Staff, board members and program participants and LASER leaders from around the country gathered at the National Museum of Natural History to celebrate all that this organization has accomplished over the last 30 years.


Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs)

The 2015 Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers served 43 teachers who came to DC from across the country. Each group participated in an in-depth study on the topics of Biodiversity, Energy’s Innovations & Implications, or Earth’s History & Global Change by going behind-the-scenes at the Smithsonian and other research facilities around the nation’s capital. Many of the teachers came to us through a partnership with the Dow Chemical Company, which is now developing a cadre of master STEM teachers in several regions where Dow works.   

Biodiversity SSEATs


Colorado LASER Initiative

In Colorado, 57 teachers joined in the Colorado LASER professional development training in early June. While facilitators modeled research-based pedagogy, teachers learned how to implement new curriculum and gained the background knowledge for science concepts specific to their units of study.  As these science educators worked together, they created a community of learners using strategies that engage and motivate students, allowing concepts to stick in students’ heads. Later in June, 36 teacher leaders and school and district administrators gathered for the Strategic Planning Institute held at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  Leadership groups embarked on the journey of developing a Strategic Plan specific to the needs of their individual school to guide them as they implement a sustainable, hands-on, inquiry-based science program.

Colorado Strategic Planning Institute 

Other Awesome Stuff

This year also brought new approaches to professional development and leadership development. We started the summer with our first train-the-facilitator workshop to prepare teachers who participated in LASER i3 to be trainers for the Colorado LASER Initiaitive. This came on the heels of the development of our very own intermediate-level training modules for a collection of physical science STC™ units that combined good scientific and teaching practices with content from the units. We will continue to expand this repertoire in the coming years.

In July, the 2015 Smithsonian Science Education Forum served as one of our first programs explicitly focused on engineering, while the International SPI welcomed two traditional SPI teams from North Carolina, as well as an exploratory team made up of a variety of educators from Washington, DC. Rodger Bybee, writing team leader for the NGSS and former executive director of BSCS presented, and praised the work of the SSEC and its smooth integration with the NGSS. Of course the 11 programs that took place between mid-May and the end of July could not have been possible without the support of our summer interns, Addy Allred, a senior at Guilford College; Danny Tuthill, a junior at UC Berkeley; and Deandre Miles, a sophomore at Emory University.

The biggest highlight of our year has been the addition of two new employees, Tami McDonald and Alberto Lopez-Torres. Tami is our new Regional Coordinator in Colorado, and was most recently a classroom teacher in the Aurora Public Schools. Alberto is our new Program Specialist here in the DC office, and comes to us from the Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York. Though they have both been with us for only a short time, we have already put them to work!  In addition to all of our programming, we have all been busy attending conferences from Brekenridge, CO to Mexico City, to Baltimore, building new connections, learning, and building support for STEM Education and the SSEC around the country and across the world.

Looking Forward               

As we look to the coming year, Professional Services will continue our ongoing projects in Colorado, as well as the Johnston County, NC NGSS Initiative. SSEATs are continuing to grow in popularity and attract teachers from around the nation. We are looking forward to continuing all of these great programs, as well as embarking on new experiences and exploring new projects in the coming year. And of course, we will share all of that with you, right here on the STEMVisions Blog! 

Happy New Year! 


Professional Services [Amy, Katie, Katherine, Tami and Alberto]

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About the Author

Katherine Pedersen Blanchard
Assistant Division Director of Professional Services



Katherine Pedersen Blanchard is Assistant Division Director of Professional Services at the SSEC where she has managed programs and led initiatives across the United States and around the world. Katherine works with teachers, schools, districts and communities to build support for science and STEM education that intersects with social issues and sustainable development. She is passionate about connecting people who are doing this work across geographic borders, disciplines, and generations. During her time at the SSEC, Katherine has led professional development workshops, leadership institutes, and has worked on the development of new initiatives including the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project. Prior to joining the SSEC in 2012, Katherine worked in theatre production for companies in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Belgrade, Serbia, and was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Belgrade. She holds a BA in Theatre and Political Science from Coe College, and an MA in International Education from The George Washington University.