"What I Did on My Summer Vacation": Taking Advantage of Professional Learning Opportunities
For this back–to–school issue of In Perspective, we invited Ohio teachers to send us a description of "what they did on their summer vacation" in regard to professional learning. Below are the responses, presented in the order in which they arrived. Not surprisingly, whether the teachers stayed in state or traveled star–ward, focused on reading or math or science, or worked in elementary, middle, or high school, the one note that resonates through all the responses is an enthusiasm for learning that underlies a dedication to teaching.
Summer vacation—not a time to sit around eating bonbons, but a time to refresh, recharge, and get fired up about working with a new group of children and the upcoming year in which you will have the opportunity to help your students feel empowered, make them readers, help them fall in love with writing, math, science, or whatever your area happens to be.
One way I recharge is by attending the Lakota Literacy VIEW near Cincinnati in June. Four days of nationally known researchers and authors (Carl Anderson, Lester Laminack, Katie Wood Ray, Tim Rasinski, Isoke Nia, Ralph Fletcher) meeting in small group sessions to build your literacy background and base. Four days of having professional talks with your colleagues about best practices and the most up–to–date research and how to best implement the practices into your classroom. How can you get better than that? No matter how hard you try, there is not the time during the school year to have the conversations with your colleagues or to keep up with the latest professional books and research; there is just not the time.
Summer is a gift to teachers, and therefore our students, to help us be the best we can be, year after year.
—Kristine Michael, Curriculum Coordinator, and former fourth grade teacher for 15 years, Granville Exempted Village Schools
Summer vacation of 2008 began the same way the school year of 2008 ended—in class! This time, however, I was the student, and the subject was science—not my strongest. I spent five days with seven colleagues from the Chillicothe City Schools finishing up our BEEFS seminar. Building Exemplary Educational Foundations in Science is a yearlong project that started in September, with the goals of increasing our knowledge of science content and our abilities to merge this knowledge with Ohio's Academic Content Standards in Science. Our facilitators for the project were three professors from Ohio University, who patiently tolerated our misunderstandings or lack of understanding of the material we covered. The summer session was a highlight for me, as we focused on the topic of global climate change, something most of us knew something—but not much—about.
What a break from the normal reading and language arts in-services that have always been part of my summer agenda! My mind was stretched to think differently as we learned about the thermohaline cycle and how it affects Earth's climate. I was shocked to learn that a mini–ice age that ended a little more than a century ago was responsible for historically significant events such as the Bubonic Plague, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the potato famine in Ireland, and witch hunts! We also examined energy sources and their impact on today's climate patterns. The highlight for me was watching Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which synthesized everything we learned during the week. I'm still working on my Capstone project, which requires us to create a usable unit that will lead to our students' eventual understandings of global climate change. Because of this program, I have increased knowledge and applications for my classroom about several complex science concepts, as well as gained a new sense of personal responsibility to the Earth on which I live. I know that when I return to my fourth grade class in the fall, it will be with renewed energy and enthusiasm for science education, and that I'll give it the important focus that it really deserves.
—Marcia McNeill, fourth grade teacher, Tiffin Elementary, Chillicothe City Schools
This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to attend an ORC/JASON facilitator training. The ORC training was conducted through WebEx meetings, where the participants worked online to learn about the ORC site and the many resources available for educators.
This was followed by two days of JASON training at ORC. JASON, an inquiry–based curriculum designed for grades 5–9, is aligned to Ohio science standards and can be adapted for use at higher or lower grades. It is an initiative of Bob Ballard and partners National Geographic, NOAA, and NASA, and allows students the opportunity to work with scientists through core curriculum units. During the JASON training for Operation: Monster Storms, we worked through the curriculum, activities, labs, and the online resources that support the curriculum. We also previewed the most recent JASON curriculum, Operation: Resilient Planet, which is scheduled for release during the summer of 2008.
—Karen Swayne, eighth grade science teacher, Peebles High School
What did I do over my summer vacation? Well, in June, I taught science camp in my school district. I also attended an ORC/JASON training program. In July, I attended Atlas training, and in late July, I participated in ORC Ambassador training. Then in early August, I taught a JASON workshop. I did take a break between my professional development activities—in mid-July, I took a trip to Washington to visit my son and granddaughter!
—Vicky Barnett, seventh grade science teacher, Peebles High School
For three weeks, I worked with the Teacher Quality Enhancement Project (TQEP) and was a mentor teacher for a preservice teacher. She and I worked with soon–to–be sixth grade students from the Columbus City School District. We taught lessons on math and science and used technology to enhance some of the lessons. The main thread we wove throughout the lessons was culturally relevant pedagogy. In total, there were 14 pairs or trios working together with about 275 middle school students. The summer camp allowed for activities that could not take place in the usual middle school classroom—for example, going to a greenhouse.
The TQEP is funded by a grant and is aimed at preservice teachers who will become math or science teachers. This is my second summer working with the program. I gained much during my experience with my preservice teacher. Even though there were times when I thought it would be easier to jump in and work with the students myself, I held back to let my partner in the classroom work with the students in her own way. I used the time we had together and during our reflection after classes to encourage and guide my partner. She was showing me that she is quite insightful and worked on gaining her own style of "teacher voice."
What other things stand out in my mind? As a math teacher, I would not have taken my classes to a greenhouse or insectory, but I enjoyed the opportunity to do so. I enjoyed the enthusiasm the students had while researching crime in the hometowns of the various college mascots who were "suspects" in the "murder" of Brutus Buckeye. The CSI unit gave me some clues about what goes on with solving crimes. I cannot help but wonder what mysteries I will encounter when I work with the program next!
—Mary Barber, mathematics educator, Columbus City Schools
This summer I attended a workshop entitled "Enabling and Nurturing Activity–Based Learning," held at Shawnee State University, for grades 4–8. The aim of the workshop was to introduce and establish other ways of teaching instead of the traditional lecture style. The workshop provided us with classroom sets of math manipulatives, such as tangrams, base 10 blocks, and miras. We also were given lesson plans that could be used in our future classrooms.
I recently graduated from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth (with a bachelor's degree in mathematical sciences in conjunction with adolescent to young adult education), and this is the first workshop that I have attended. I really enjoyed it and would recommend this type of summer program to any teacher. My hope is that Southern Ohio will have more workshops and professional development opportunities like this one.
—John Riffe, middle school mathematics teacher
This summer I took part in two professional development programs, each a week long, for middle school math teachers. The first was Summer Math Camp for grades 7 and 8 math teachers sponsored by OU Southern and the Ohio Board of Regents. We had an exciting week participating with and listening to teachers sharing their best practice lessons. I walked away with fantastic ideas for my classroom, collaborated with others in my field, and received my very own airliner to use with my Smartboard. I would highly recommend this opportunity to my colleagues.
The second week of my professional development was the ENABL workshop at Shawnee State University. Our focus was on incorporating activity–based lessons in our classroom curriculum. We received terrific ideas and lessons for incorporating an abundance of manipulatives and received classroom sets of those manipulatives. I am very excited to return to this school year with great lessons and the materials I need to teach them.
—Shannon Hunt, seventh grade mathematics teacher, South Point Middle School
During the week of July 28, I participated in a weeklong math workshop at Shawnee State University. It was one of the best workshops I have attended in my many years of teaching experience! I received a boatload of manipulatives to use in my classroom and was instructed in how to use these manipulatives to teach the Ohio state standards.
—Debbie Mauk, eighth grade math teacher, Jackson Middle School
This summer I had the opportunity to spend a week collaborating with fellow middle school math teachers in the TLC summer math camp facilitated by OU Southern and the Ohio Board of Regents. During the camp, fellow teachers were asked to present their best lessons and ideas that would benefit the region's math teachers. Also, the camp provided an opportunity to receive new technology. We received our very own SmartTech Airliner, which will be an absolute blessing this year for me and my students.
Also this summer, I attended a weeklong program held at Shawnee State University for fourth through eighth grade math teachers. This was a wonderful experience collaborating with fellow teachers and university staff to help improve classroom instruction and transition to a way of teaching through hands–on manipulatives. The program supplied materials to use during the week's sessions, as well as graciously provided enough manipulatives for me (as well as the other participants) to have a classroom set. This is wonderful!!! In other professional development programs, I have been exposed to great hands–on tools that would be ideal for teaching math, but was sent home with nothing to use in my actual classroom. This program has been fortunate enough to receive grants to provide the participants with not only exposure to the new materials but enough materials for each participant to be able to use in their classrooms!
All in all, I am always looking forward to the local opportunities for math teachers, but unfortunately, Southern Ohio is an area that is often overlooked for funding and resources.
—Christina Crabtree, eighth grade mathematics teacher, high school algebra teacher, Symmes Valley Middle School, Willow Wood
"Stretching the Rainbow" is a program that was conceived for the purpose of giving high school science teachers experience in astronomical methods, including the gathering and interpretation of data from various portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The program—organized and led by two professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio University, Mangala Sharma (research professor) and Joe Shields (professor and department chair) —presented a unique and exciting opportunity for high school teachers from southern (Appalachia) Ohio.
When I learned about this program, I eagerly applied. I have a life–long interest in astronomy and am licensed to teach Earth and Space Science at the middle and high school level.
It took only a few weeks to learn that I (along with four other southern Ohio teachers) had been selected for this experience. Our group met at Ohio University in April to lay the foundation for our experience in radio astronomy that was to take place at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. The classroom instruction consisted of an overview of the electromagnetic spectrum and how various observing techniques can be used to determine the nature of distant celestial objects. A second classroom experience was held in mid–June to prepare our group for optical observing using a research–grade reflecting telescope at the MDM observatory in Arizona.
In late May our group traveled to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank. Seeing the large radio telescopes that make up this historic facility fueled the group's enthusiasm for getting started on gathering data. We were taken to a 40–foot–diameter radio telescope facility and given brief instruction on how to operate the instrument. We were then turned loose to gather electromagnetic data from hydrogen clouds in various regions of the Milky Way galaxy.
In late June the "Stretching the Rainbow" program took our group to Tucson, Arizona, for the next phase of our experience. Our first stop was a tour of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. This laboratory pioneered a technique for producing large–diameter astronomical mirrors using spinning furnaces.
We then traveled to the MDM observatory south of Tucson. This observatory is supported by a consortium of universities which includes Ohio University. As a partner in this consortium, Ohio University is guaranteed a certain amount of telescope time each year, a portion of which is dedicated to the "Stretching the Rainbow" program. The MDM facility is immediately adjacent to the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at Kitt Peak. We were able to tour the Kitt Peak facility, which consists of dozens of instruments of various capabilities. It is one of the most important astronomical observatories on earth.
Our primary focus (no pun intended) was to observe galaxies using a 1.3–meter reflecting telescope at the MDM observatory. Our group was given instruction on basic telescope theory and operation and on the use of CCDs (charge–coupled devices) to image galaxies. Each person in our group was assigned a particular class of galaxy to image. We selected our targets prior to the trip, and stayed up for most of two nights during our visit to the MDM observatory gathering data.
Seeing the first images of our targets on the viewing screen was absolutely amazing! We could use the optical data to identify different kinds of galaxies. We could see how some galaxies were colliding and how gravitational forces were changing their structure. We used filters of various colors to view galaxies (or rather, the stars in those galaxies) to make inferences about the temperature and age of stars. We finally reached the end of our second night of observing and stowed the telescope. Tired, but elated, we packed and traveled back to Ohio for a well-deserved rest.
As the new school year approaches, I am considering ways to take my "Stretching the Rainbow" experience back to the classroom. One possibility is the Radio Jove program in which students construct simple antennae to gather and interpret radio data from both the sun and Jupiter. Another project might involve using data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) to make inferences about the sun's magnetic field and how space weather affects earth systems. Regardless of whether the above projects are implemented or other opportunities for doing astronomical inquiry present themselves in the coming year, my experience in the "Stretching the Rainbow" program will help me provide a more enriching classroom experience and has fueled my enthusiasm for teaching space science.
—David Pentecost, science instructor, Pickaway Ross Career and Technology Center, Chillicothe
Ahhh, summer. One of my favorite parts of being an educator. What educator doesn't like the opportunity to take a well–deserved vacation, relax, and catch up on a few good books, or occasionally sleep in (unless, of course, you have two young children calling your name at 7 a.m. each morning). I love all those parts of summer, but I also like the part of reflecting on a year past and renewing myself professionally so I can begin to look forward to a fresh new school year.
Well, I took that well–deserved vacation, and I read a few good books, some for fun and some for professional growth, and I have been given the gift of sleeping in a few times, but I also have taken the time to renew myself and take part in the Ambassador Program offered by the Ohio Resource Center. I was honored and thrilled to learn that I would be able to take part in this fantastic program. Ambassadors provide professional development in the use of the ORC for teaching in a standards–based system. I knew this was for me because I am a firm believer in technology integration into classroom instruction and in the need for both students and teachers to be able to access our twenty–first–century world in the most effective way possible.
As I took part in the training, I learned so many great things about ORC, such as all their resources are aligned with Ohio's indicators and standards and, most importantly, each resource is peer–reviewed before it can be approved to be posted on the site. When I left on the last day, I couldn't wait to begin to share what I had learned with every educator I knew. I felt an even more critical sense of urgency in getting the word out than I ever did. All I could think is that the possibilities of using this resource were endless; as one of my fellow Ambassador trainees put it, "This site is like a teacher candy store!"
Now that summer is coming quickly to an abrupt end (summers are always way too short!), I find myself looking forward to that new school year and its endless possibilities. I am excited to be able to use ORC and the Ambassador program to help me and my fellow colleagues craft quality learning experiences for us and for our students. Thank you, ORC, for giving me this opportunity!
—Krissy Machamer, fourth grade teacher, Maysville Elementary School, Zanesville
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