I just returned from Miami, Florida where I had the opportunity to work with an incredible group of middle school science teachers and Univeristy of Miami graduate students. They were gathered for a two-week workshop called Science Made Sensible. The program is the brain child of Dr Michael Gaines, an ecologist at the University of Miami. The idea is to match the middle school teachers (who all come from Miami-Dade County public schools) with U of M science graduate student fellows. They work together for two weeks in the summer, to develop lesson plans and devise inquiry- based experiences and labs for the students. During those two weeks they have a variey of “experts” come into talk with them about science team work – or in my case, participatory media.
During our morning together we learned about blogs, wikis, podcasts and social media. The day started with a discussion of an assigned reading – an article entitaled Factors Affecting Technology Integration in K-12 Classrooms by Fethi Inan and Deborah Lowther. It was a path analysis of what prevents K-12 teachers from using technology effectively in their classrooms. The resulting discussion was a good introduction to the topic since it gave the teachers a chance to talk meaningfully about the situations at their respective schools. All the horror stories you can imagine (and some that you can’t) emerged – broken or sadly out-of-date computers, unreliable IT support, no money, no time…But Dr. Gaines urged them all to think positively, agitate for change when necessary, and recognize the paper’s conclusion – lack of professional development was the root of the problem – was what we were all there to address.
This was an extremely bright group – they caught onto the nuances quickly and, by morning’s end, had all created a blog, posted a bog entry, built a wiki site, and planned a student project featuring the new tools they had just mastered.
I am really struck by the strength of this partnership model. Among the group were four returnees who had been in the program last year – they were back to reconnect with their partner “fellows” and help out with the program. One of the graduate students explained that she’d invited her partner m-s teacher to her wedding. Apparently another of the grad student fellows from last year, after his experience, decided to become a middle school science teacher. They all told stories of incredible insights and tremendous support, given and taken, over the course of their year together. There is clearly power in these relationships.
This is not your average one-off professional development experience. Because it is sustained over the course of the year (team mates work together for 10 hours each week), mentoring relationships have a chance to grow and develop. They build lesson plans together, teach together, learn together, and come to rely on each other. The graduate students learn about teaching and how to communicate with a non-scientist audience and the m-s teachers get much needed resources, help with their teaching, and learn some good science along the way. And those middle schoolers that everyone is working for? They benefit too. It’s a win, win, win.