Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Role of Teachers

I came across this quote by Piaget a few days ago, which pretty accurately sums up my teaching philosophy.  Everyone who has ever taken a child development course knows Piaget.  His studies of how children develop and learn are foundational.  Stumbling upon this quote reminded me once again of how many things we do in schools that contradict what we know about how students learn.

We spend too much time teaching students "stuff" and don't give them nearly enough time to figure out things on their own.  Most schools have a culture driven by content instead of process, despite the fact that we know that learning is all about connecting, doing, and discovery.

If future generations are to prosper, we need to find ways to change schools from places of information gathering to places of learning. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Round Table Discussion with State TOY and Kenyan Teachers

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a round table discussion through Google Hangouts with some amazing State Teachers of the Year from around the United States and teachers at the Cheery Education Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.  I am grateful to Dyane Smokorowski for inviting me to participate.

Below is the video recording of our call.


Friday, March 7, 2014

A Few More PAEMST Pictures

Yesterday pictures were tweeted out by both the National Science foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy of our PAEMST group.

2012 PAEMST Winners at the National Science Foundation
President Obama speaks to 2012 PAEMST Winners in the East Room of the White House
Obviously, all the winners are pictured in the first picture.  I got lucky to fit in the crop in the second picture (I'm in the top left corner).

The second picture was tweeted out with a link to the following article that described our visit to the White House and included several quotes from some of the other winners:  President Obama Welcomes Top Science and Math Teachers to the White House

Thursday, March 6, 2014

PAEMST Recognition Trip - Day 5

The alarm went off at 6 AM this morning, and it was tough to get out of bed.  We had to be on the buses to the Award Ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences at 7AM.  Our guests were also being bussed to the event at 7:15 on separate buses.

My father's ring that he resized and gave to me & I wore for the first time at the Award Ceremony
We made it to NAS after a brief detour.  Apparently, NAS has two different Washington DC locations, and we went to the wrong place.  Everyone filed out of the bus and started to go into the building before being told to get back on board.
The wrong Academy of Sciences building

The National Academy of Science building (on Constitution Avenue, across from the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial) is a beautiful building.  There was a light breakfast available for us, and we mingled for a bit.  This last day had a very "last day of summer camp" kind of feel.  We had all made some great friends, and knew that this would be the last time we would all be together.  Two and a half days was not nearly long enough for any of us.
The right Academy of Sciences building

Before the actual award ceremony we had a practice ceremony.  We lined up in alphabetical order by state and were told where to walk, stand, etc.
Pennsylvania FTW!

It was a bit odd to have such a major ceremony first thing in the morning.  Especially since many of us were concerned about getting back to the hotel in time to make check-out time and not be charged for an extra night.  Some people even checked out and brought their luggage with them to the ceremony so they could take a taxi right to the airport afterward.

The ceremony was nice.  The Undersecretary of Education talked for a bit before the award presentations.  Even though Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had nothing on his public calendar, he didn't consider this important enough to attend.  Unfortunately, the other speaker, acting director of the National Science Foundation Cora Marrett, got stuck in traffic and had to give her remarks after we received our awards. 

My big moment

Lori, Darwin, and I

A few of us with acting Under Secretary of Education Jamienne Studley

Seeing the award for the first time was pretty amazing.  President Barak Obama personally signed each one of them, and our names were written in calligraphy on the awards.

After the ceremony we spent a few minutes taking pictures and saying goodbyes to the other winners.  Those of us taking buses back to the hotel then boarded.

We got back to the hotel in time to quickly pack up and check out on time.  My mother offered to take some of our luggage in her car back home for us so that we did not have to carry it on the plane.  I gave her most of our luggage (which would later come back to haunt me) and the flowers I had bought for Lori at the beginning of the trip thanking her for all of her support that allowed me to achieve this honor.

Lori and I had a nice lunch at the restaurant in the hotel before taking a taxi back to Washington Reagan National Airport.

Our flight home was pretty uneventful.  We had to wait on the tarmac for a while in DC which made our connection in Philadelphia tight, but got back into Scranton on time.  As we walked through the terminal in Scranton I suddenly realized that my car keys were in one of the bags that I had sent home with my mother. 

Lori and I had to wait for an hour in the empty airport for my mother and sister to drive the keys to us.  I showed her the meditation room in the airport while we waited.  It's actually pretty cool. 

AVP Meditation Room
Finally we got home, gave our kids big hugs and the Presidential M&Ms that I had gotten (which they are not allowed to eat), and collapsed into bed.

On the first night of the PAEMST events we were told by the three presidents of the alumni societies that this award would change our lives.  I guess we'll see...

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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