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Reflections from the Summer 2014 Session

 In #TAFInstitute

Summer professional development—I know the drill.  I’ve been on both sides of the lectern.


First Place School principal Evie Livingston works with her planning group as they prepare their presentation

In 32 years of teaching, I’ve attended more summer PD sessions than I can count and in 14 years of coaching teachers and schools, I’ve been the presenter of at least one seminar-workshop-institute every summer.  Typically, it’s a struggle with teachers arriving late, leaving early, and using the time to catch up on email.  Typically, presenters talk too much—what teachers call the “sit-and-get” format—and send folks home with a white 3-ring binder filled with handouts that will join all the other binders on the dusty shelf that every teacher has.

When I sat down with my colleagues to plan the 2nd annual STEMbyTAF Summer Institute, our intention was to create an experience that would be the exact opposite and, in reflection, I think we hit our marks.  The participant reflections from the last day confirm this with one teacher wishing we’d had one more day and several others commenting on the fast pace of learning and doing that was almost too much.

We had 4 eight hour days devoted to wrestling with this driving question: “How do 21st Century learning standards promote equity in STEM education?

The STEMbyTAF answer to the question started with exploring project-based learning (PBL) as an instructional framework designed to incorporate 21st century standards and promote equity as students learn how to ask important questions and answer them.

That’s an extremely terse definition of a learning process that can only be learned by doing—and that’s what half of the institute schedule was devoted to as teachers worked with colleagues to create projects for their own students.  Their presentations on the last day were a testimony to the learning that kept teachers working together hour after hour.  If we didn’t announce an “official” break time, they didn’t take one except to run to grab a cookie or take a bathroom break.

Because of this focused hard work, students at Two Rivers School in Snoqualmie Valley, First Place of Seattle (the first charter school in the state to open), Mount View Elementary School in Highline District, School of the Arts and Science and Math Institute (both in Tacoma School District) , TAF Academy in Federal Way Public Schools, and STEM Up (TAF after school program) will be engaging in the kind of learning that changes lives.


TAF Academy middle school Humanities teacher Carlito Umali presents on the elements of true teacher collaboration

While project presentations were the highlight of the week for me, the high points across the week made it all possible.  Lunch speakers each day reminded us of the real world validity of what do.  Trish Millines Dziko, TAF founder and CEO, spoke eloquently about the needs of students who need guidance from people who look like them and believe in their abilities.  Harish Vanda, VP of Information Technology at Symetra Financial, called out the reality that all jobs in business are, at some level, IT jobs.  The founder of the high school internship program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb inspired us all as she describe the importance of our students working alongside scientist mentors,  When she said, “Send me your kids,” we all wanted to.   On our last day, Priya Sinha Coultier—once   a nuclear engineer and now a patent attorney at Lane Powell Attorneys and Counselors—advocated for women and people of color who must navigate the white-male dominated worlds of both science and law.

A special thanks to the Hutch who hosted us for two days and opened their lab doors for tours led by high school student interns.  Thank you to TAF Academy teachers Carlito Umali, Beth Sims, and Denise McLean who shared best practices projects that set a high bar for the week’s work.

The facilitators made it all work: Chris Alejano, Zithri Ahmed-Saleem, Ryan Preis, Amanda Kopchinski, Professors Antony Smith and Robin Angotti from UW Bothell.

We didn’t send them home with white binders.  Instead, they took home a link to the Wiki that houses all the institute content as well as the projects each group produced.  I don’t think it will gather dust.


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