Thursday, March 6, 2014

PAEMST Recognition Event - Day 4

If you read my last blog post, you know I didn't get much sleep before these events. My mind was so full of ideas that I didn't fall asleep until 4AM. The alarm went off at 6, and we needed to meet in the lobby to take the buses to the White House at 6:45.
That didn't stop me from having another incredible day. The buses dropped us off at the White House Visitor Center around 7. We spent quite a while outside in the security line. It was in the high 20s, so we got a little chilly. I enjoyed the conversation with a few of the other winners.

The tour of the White House took us in through the lower level, past a few rooms that were roped off (a library and a room full of past china sets) and then up a flight of stairs. At the top of those stairs we found ourselves back in the East Room, where we had met the President just a few hours ago. We were not allowed to take any pictures on this tour.

Three high school girls in front of us heard myself talking with a couple of the other winners about our meeting with President Obama in this room the day before and asked us for details. I told them that I shook the President's hand "right there in the same spot that President Kennedy's coffin rested after his assassination."

They asked us why we had that experience and we were able to explain that we we being honored for being some of the best math and science teachers in the country. Maybe we inspired one of them to become a STEM teacher...

This time, the East Room was roped off so that we had to follow a narrow path. The same was true for the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room junta we had free access to the day before. It was only now that the depth of yesterday's experience sank in. Few of us had realized how special the access we had yesterday was.

From the White House we walked about 5 or 6 blocks to meet our guests at National Geographic's headquarters to see an advance screening of their new show, Cosmos. It was explained to us that we were to be the first group of people in the world to see the first episode.

I loved the show. It is based of a show of the same name by Carl Sagan years ago. This version is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of my personal idols. The show debuts on TV on March 9th, and I can't wait to see more. As a gift, National Geographic gave us each a copy of Carl Sagan's book, Cosmos and a really awesome poster showing the history of the universe compressed into a calendar year.  Unfortunately, I had no way to transport that poster around, so I didn't take one.

From National Geographic, we parted with our guests and made our way to buses that took us to the National Science Foundation Headquarters in Arlington, VA. We heard from the acting Director of NSF and then had lunch meetings with different assistant directors. My group of about 10 math winners met with NSF's education staff, and we had an excellent discussion about ways to get more excellent STEM teachers into positions that influence policy decisions, pre-service teacher teacher training in STEM, and the need for better content-specific math and science pedagogical knowledge among current teachers.  It was times like this - when the Assistant Director in charge of the National Science Foundation's education efforts was asking me for advice on how we could improve STEM education in the United States that I realized the magnitude of the award I had won.

Acting Director of NSF, Cora Marrett

Pennsylvania Winners with Director Marrett

NSF Atrium

When out meetings were done for the day, I took the Metro over to the Smithsonian to meet up with Lori, who had toured the Holocaust Museum earlier. We had a snack in the Museum of American History Cafeteria, walked through the Natural History Museum's mammal, ocean, and gem exhibits, and then took a taxi back to the Omni.

Jim Henson exhibit at American History Museum

Marie Antoinette's earrings
For dinner, we met both my sets of parents, who just got into town for tomorrow's awards ceremony, at Founding Farmers. This restaurant was very highly recommended by others who had spent time in DC before, and got good reviews on Yelp. Dinner was excellent. I had the shrimp and grits, and Lori had the chicken and waffles. We split the cornbread appetizer, which was really good, but were too full for dessert afterwards.

After dinner we said goodbye to all of my parents and spent some time with other winners and their wives/guests at the restaurant and a place called Bayou 'celebrating' Fat Tuesday. It'll be another night of short sleep. The buses to the awards ceremony leave for the National Academy of Sciences at 7AM.

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