The class of 2010 SSP Fellows traveled to Washington, DC in late July for a week of training and networking at the 2010 SSP Fellows Institute. The Fellows attended several workshops, including Mentoring Student Research and How to Teach Research: Taking an Experiment to an Investigation, with expert instructors from organizations such as the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science &Technology, the National Institute of Health’s Office of Science Education, the Lakeshore H.S. Math & Science Center, and Georgetown Day School. In between sessions, visiting their congressional representatives, and conducting experiments, the Fellows also finalized their Project Management Plans (PMPs) for implementing their independent research programs at their schools, which serve under-resourced students.
“Being a Fellow is like being in the Tour de France because it definitely has some ups and downs and challenging courses,” said Tim Lundt, who teaches in Wasilla, Alaska, of the Institute in a video blog, or vlog, which the Fellows filmed throughout the week.
The Institute “kicked off” on Monday, July 26, with a kickball game to help quickly acquaint the SSP Fellows with each other. The next day, the Fellows flocked to Capitol Hill to share their views on science education with their congressional representatives. Several of the representatives formally praised their efforts, including Rep. Carnahan, Rep. Teague, Rep. Schrader, and Rep. Klein.
“Probably the best thing about this week so far has been working with some…amazing people,” Anne Artz, a teacher from La Jolla, California, said in a vlog Wednesday morning. “Sometimes I feel like I’m out there on this island,” she said about trying new, innovative ways to teach. “Then I come here and meet other teachers and think ‘you know, I’m not alone on this island, and there are other people trying some crazy ideas as well.’”
On Wednesday, the Fellows worked in a hands-on sensor lab with high tech sensors that they brought back to their schools. Later, on a visit to Georgetown Day School, they also conducted experiments with pill bugs to see what stimuli affected them. (Pill bugs liked BBQ potato chips, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow,” and were indifferent to diet coke and tapping on the Petri dish.)
Thursday, the Fellows heard great talks about partnerships with companies and government agencies to leverage the funds they are receiving from SSP in order to help their students even more. “Today was really useful,” Melanie Schwarzbach, who teaches in Box Elder, MT, said. “I’m one of those people who always wants to do everything all by myself, but as my program gets bigger and bigger and bigger, I know that I [will need help] to keep up with the level of expertise [my students] deserve.”
Other Fellows also used the vlogs to tell more about their experiences teaching. “I’m going to share with you something that totally changed my outlook as a teacher,” Ashley Ivins, of Carrizozo, NM, said at the beginning of one vlog. She told a story about a student who didn’t have his work with him one day and told her he had problems getting it due to a lot of problems at home and with his friends. She told him she didn’t care about all that, she only cared about him coming to class on time and prepared. For the rest of class the student, who was usually vocal, was very quiet. Ashely said that he didn’t come back the next day, or the next day after that, or the next day after that. Eventually, he dropped out of high school. She felt that she lost an opportunity with him that she does not want to lose again and the story reminded her of why she was doing this: “I became a teacher because I enjoy being with kids; especially kids who maybe didn’t have a great life.”
On Friday, the fellows visited the Natural History Museum where they saw a forensic anthropology lab and learned about a new iphone application for identifying plants in the field. They ended the Institute with a celebratory dinner at the Dupont Hotel before the Fellows flew home to bring back all of their newfound knowledge, connections, and resources to their students and communities.