Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wow! What a year! 2020 Rocks!

My head is exploding! The school year is finally over and I feel like overall it was wildly successful. First of all, I am compelled to say that this year's group of students was by far the best set of kids I have ever had the pleasure to teach. That is saying something! In my 27 year career, I have had plenty of memorable students- but I have never had a better class overall. Every one of my sections was my favorite for some reason or another. Each class had a "vibe" that made it unique from the others. I sincerely looked forward to every class, every day. I teach freshmen. So this group of students will graduate in the spring of 2020.

I started each day with a great group of quietly high achieving students. They were my guinea pig class. I would try something new and they would go along and then help me figure out if things were right or not. My next class was friendly and respectful with me and fiercely competitive with one another. My 4th period was a social group who asked great questions and wanted to engage more frequently in the side topics. My next class had some interesting personalities. There were many athletes in this section. Some of the students needed to develop confidence in their ability to learn and make connections, so they came to me a bit insecure. My last class of the day was my most endearing group.  In this class, were my most devoted helpers. They cared about one another and about me- they were my huggers. They had a great sense humor and camaraderie. I loved ending the day this way!

One of the things that made this year's classes so great is they would go with me when I wanted to try something new- I will explain in another blog post about all the new things we worked on together this year. They taught me by being willing to learn new technology and ask probing deep questions about the content we were covering. I knew they were engaged in the subject because of the work they did in class and the questions they asked after hours. For many who were used to memorizing information to get a good grade, it was a departure for them to be more concerned over the way they understood the information and their ability to apply it to the projects and writing. I still had plenty of students who were concerned about their points and grades, but the point grubbing was kept to a minimum this year.

Why is this year so special? To what/whom do I owe a debt of gratitude for such an incredible teaching year? Honestly, I am not sure. I think there was an interesting nexus of contributing factors.

Part one of the nexus is my comfort level with my content. This is my third year teaching this particular course. I was originally intimidated when the administrators asked me to teach Honors Biology. My environmental biology degree (class of '87) did not include deep levels of the biochemistry and cellular biology needed to teach this level. I had a great deal of learning to do in order to teach the content in a competent way. We have been transitioning our classes using the Next Generation Science Standards, we have had the opportunity to be creative with our unit structure and projects. I had a smart new teaching partner who patiently walked me through some of the most difficult content. He appreciated my creativity and I leaned on him for different ways to explain information.

The next factor is my ability to work in the technology. I elected to be part of a cohort of teachers to receive
a class set of chromebooks. So my students started using their chromebooks very early in the school year. We had the tools to do some of the most creative work and produce some excellent projects right from the beginning. Many of the students also came in with a set of technology skills. So they could teach each other and me if necessary. I felt comfortable having my students show me new things and share ideas related to the content. After I created my google classroom and the first time I assigned work, one of my students walked me through how to publish it correctly. I wanted to learn new skills and different ways to connect the learning, so I was happy to try new things and was ecstatic when my students could teach me some different ways to use the tools in my room. I had some excellent support from our tech coaches and from my twitter PLN for further ways to engage my students using the tools.

The last factor in this nexus is the students themselves. I cannot explain it, but you know when you have a great connection to a class and if feels like they just want to learn more and more. I had that feeling all year long. We started off with lots of memorable activities and just kept the pace up throughout the entire year. At the end of the first semester, we did a reflection project describing some things they learned. As I was reviewing the projects to score them, I could not believe how much the things we did mattered to them. The routines were important. The technology was important. The information about biological processes was important. They explained it all so eloquently. I cried through many of those projects because my teaching goals seemed to align with the things they were learning.

At the end of the year, after all the content was complete, I asked them to do research on a topic they were passionate about that was related to the content we learned this year. The assignment was to connect and apply their learning to develop a novel approach to an existing problem. The variety of projects was astounding. They personalized the content from our class and found a way to communicate their new ideas in a relevant context.

Now I ask you, does it get any better than that? I am still flying high with pride and wonder at how this year could have even happened. In the final analysis, I think it was an unbelievable
synergy between factors that all came together to produce one of my most memorable teaching years.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Innovation in Professional Development

A couple of weeks ago, at our school site professional development meeting, three of us got into a discussion about getting more people the technology learning they needed and wanted. One of our district TOSA Instructional Tech coaches Paula Torres, (@lohstorres1), our site staff development chair Eric Cypher, and I agreed that we could do more. 

Our district provides some great opportunities for training on occasional Saturdays and the Tech Coach Cafe after school. Locally, at our site, we produce a school wide staff development collaboration that is popular among the faculty and other staff members.  I often get calls from friends around campus who need help with Google Drive or a program. Eric is one of our local experts on data and formative assessment. Until the end of last year, Paula was a teacher at our school pushing the envelope of flipped instruction and the use of math applications with the Chromebooks.

The problem is providing services for those who can't come to those district events or those who find they need additional support after one of our school wide activities.The Tech Coaches will come assist individuals who make appointments, but since they are not assigned to any specific school,we hypothesized that there may be a gap in personal connections between the coaches and the teachers. " I don't really know any of the tech coaches very well."Another concern is that some of the staff may be reluctant to call on the TOSAs for help because what they want to know is not consequential or high level enough to bother the coaches. "What I need to know is not worth bothering you." or " I don't know where to start." So we came up with a solution that could hit many different targets. We would host an on site professional learning weekday event providing subs, using the district tech coaches hand in hand with local trusted teacher leaders.Nothing like this had been attempted before in our district, and we had to start from scratch.

Our Principal, Susan Petrocelli (@lososohigh) approved the idea immediately and said she would provide funding for up to ten substitute teachers. After wrangling back and forth about scheduling the coaches and conflicts with district calendar dates and how to submit the requests for subs, we began planning in earnest. 

Based on our exit surveys from  previous on site staff development and knowing what some of our colleagues were working on at the time, Eric and I came up with a schedule of 3 distinct learning blocks based on periods. This took several discussions; working out what some of the novice learners needed, in addition to providing support for the intermediate and advanced people. We had to blend small group training with individual one to one time in each of the blocks. 

Paula came up with a way to personalize each block when the participants arrived. She used an alteration of the edcamp model, knowing that we had enough expertise in the room to cover most requests. She used a large piece of poster paper and sticky notes. She blocked off quadrants and wrote main concepts in each one. Next to the poster she had a place labeled "Other". She instructed each participant to number the sticky notes and to place the stickies in the quadrant of choice based on their biggest need. A brief discussion was had by the group at the beginning of the session. One of the coaches led the group and little by little the individuals moved away from the larger group and sought one on one focus with one of the other coaches.

The sketchnotes below outline the result of our Professional Learning Event

The exit survey was largely positive. Most respondents stated that the quality of our training was excellent (77%) or productive (23%). The individual help was also classified as excellent (88%).Verbal free response feedback on the survey was also positive.
  •  "I loved having the one on one assistance. I learned specific technology that I can use in my classroom immediately. This format was useful, as it allowed me to ask specific questions without feeling like an idiot." 
  • " I reached my goal because of the following dynamic, easy-to-understand, patient teachers."
  • "Good use of time and resources."
I wonder as I reflect on the success of our day, if there are things we could have done better. I have decided that there is one main goal for the next event of this format at our school. We need to attract more customers. We did not reach our 10 sub capacity, so we need to work on:
  • Getting more departments involved. Approach chairs first during leadership meetings and find out what the teams are doing together already to develop skills.
  • Managing the calendar to avoid conflicts such as off campus visits and district wide subject training that require many subs. Several colleagues were out just the day before and did not want to be out for a couple more periods the next day.
  • The local on site leaders could capitalize on their relationships with the staff to encourage more participation. Use one to one (personal word of mouth) invitations to get people to sign up.
This process left me feeling exhilarated and yearning to do more. At our subsequent Site Staff Development Committee meeting, we all agreed that the model was one worthy of repeating following our next year's Friday morning school wide collaboration. We have the date tentatively in the books for the first week of October 2016. 

It is important to note that it took several people running things in the fore ground and background to get this thing going. Our Principal believed it would be a worthwhile endeavor so she invested in the substitutes. Our Assistant Principal of Instruction, Tom Mitchell was instrumental in working with the administrative assistants (Lynn Kempf and MariaPia Bella) who organized the paperwork and scheduling and coordinating the subs. Our tech coaches were prepared for whatever questions came their way and each had a presentation ready for the group instruction at the beginning of the block. 

Our District Tech Coaches
Paula Torres @lohstorres1
John Stevens @jstevens009
Demi Niemetschek @demi_deocales
Wes Batcheller @_batcheller

Even our new librarian Shannon Will, (@lohslibrary) was in the room to assist. We all worked together to monitor the group during main instruction to ascertain if individuals needed more or less attention. This was a brilliant, synergistic team effort- all of us coming together to provide a nurturing environment for adult learners at our school. I think we set the bar very high!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What are We Getting Paid For?

I recently read a blog post from Micheal Niehoff about how to attract and keep teachers in the profession.  (Let's Pay Teachers 100K per year). I was touched by the idea that all teachers should be EXPECTED to be practicing lifelong learners, participants and leaders in true collaboration, be mentor-advisor to students (part of adjunct teaching responsibilities) and have an extended work day and year to facilitate the requirements for the above. His post got me thinking about my own experience.

Thanks to recent negotiations, the high school district in which I work just increased the top rates for all teachers by about 7%. Those teachers in the top tiers are now making just over $100,000. It's great to get such a nice raise. I know I am well paid in comparison to teachers around the California and the rest of the nation.

Here's the problem.
I am somewhat frustrated that there are teachers who make the same money as I do but work far less. There are some obvious things that contribute to the "teachers are glorified baby-sitters" mentality that often comes from the general public who do not truly know what it takes to be competent in our profession. (Why should we pay them more? They already get tons of free time!) It is something they may have experienced in the manufacturing end when they attended school. There really are teachers who work their contract hours only: 15 minutes before the first bell and 15 minutes after the last bell. Some of them are even able to get most lesson planning and most grading completed within those hours. One does not always see the hard work and design that goes into a product as complex as teaching human children.

I sometimes think I am doing something wrong when I think about those colleagues. I struggle with the planning and grading part, because of the complexity of many of the critical thinking assignments. I sometimes let things sit for a while before I grade them. I am working on improving this facet of my career. I generally do not do those tasks when I have students in the room- when we are together in class, my focus is with them- guiding, managing activities and learning and leading. I am also learning to let go of control of the grades. Self reflection and peer evaluation has a place in this arena for both students and teachers.

The work outside of my teaching day I do includes content creation (I revise lessons and add some new things every year), I am advisor to 2 very active (and time consuming) clubs, I participate in a school committee (professional development), I participate in 2 district committees (ed tech and NGSS transitions), I mentor (informally) and collaborate with a new teacher in my department. On top of all this, I challenge myself to learn new things by attending and presenting at local conferences. Many of these things are unpaid, volunteer and yet still expected of me. Don't get me wrong- I do all of these activities willingly for the benefit of students, colleagues and my school. My work week often exceeds 50 or 55 hours per week. My site administrators often work more hours than that due to local and district expectations of attendance of athletic events and other extracurricular activities. I do not resent their pay or the responsibility for the entire school community.  After all, we are all in this for the benefit of students.

Here's what I think will make the conditions better.
It would help us to have fewer students in our class loads. I already have about 165 students that I see every day. There is a huge instructional difference in a class with 38 students and one with 25. I would willingly mentor 20-25  students for their entire 4 years if my actual class sizes were down to 25 students. I think it would keep them involved in school and continuing forward toward a positive career.

Collaboration and planning could be (better) shared if there were more teachers in each department willing to teach students with fewer (old) lecture notes and (really old) worksheets and more (updated) lab and inquiry activities that require critical thinking. We also need less discussion (complaining) about 504 and IEP requirements and more sharing of real world strategies to work with all students.
STEM Solar Cup Competition
Plenty of us already work super hard. But it would really be awesome to spread the extracurricular work around. I recently had to put one of my competitive STEM clubs on hold for a year because I could not find another faculty member (in a school with over 150 staff members) to help. We have a year to do some background activities for the competition next year and to convince another staff member to work with me. If I cannot find someone- I will do it next year anyway with the help of my husband and some parents and something else will have to give. There are only 24 hours in one day.

At least in my district, we are part way there (for those teachers in the top years and educational levels). But the ones who are always only on campus from bell to bell should have to make some adjustments. I am ready to teach and work in the world Mike envisions. I wonder if others would join me?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I Have a Concern...

My first day of school Activity 
I teach 9th grade students. I am concerned about many things when they come to my class. Did they get enough breakfast this morning? Did they get enough rest last night? Are they well rounded people? Are they enjoying some free time as well as extra curricular activities? Do they have a crowd of supportive people around them?

However, my biggest concern is how well they are learning what I teach. I teach much more than Biology Content. I teach students about how to prepare (for future classes, for college, for career). I teach them skills that will carry them into the future. I teach how Biology is important in their lives. 

I worry that too many of them are agonized over about their grade more than true concern over what they have learned in my class. 

Spilling water during a lab makes a mess but is not worthy of tears.

Don't get me wrong- GPA is one important piece of the puzzle that allows for student options and choices for the colleges of their choice. But some times this becomes an unbalanced situation and can become the ONLY thing they are worried about. This trend toward the pursuit of the almighty grade is alarming to me. How do I encourage them to be more concerned about the learning than the score they got on something. I have been reading and listening to people who want standards based grading, taking scoring grading away and only giving feedback until they get it "right". That would be a complete paradigm shift to the students, their parents and to me. Do I really need to sit down and focus on every single point and eliminate it? Or do I make a culminating event for each unit that is NOT the test, but that can be assigned an assessment grade? Should it be Formative or Summative?

I have been teaching 26 years- but the kids have changed and the world has changed and I have changed. I am more concerned now than ever about the pressure each of my students faces to perform perfectly in an imperfect world. 

Recently, I read an interesting article about how we, as an educational community (teachers and parents) can work toward a more productive, less damaging focus. We can give students skills to succeed later in school, at the university or in early career. They have to learn to fail gracefully.

I have included a link to the article from KQED- Mind/Shift-How We Will Learn titled "What Do Students Lose By Being Perfect?" (Holly Korbey)

"What Do Students Lose by Being Perfect?"

We will survive our mistakes.
I hope you read it and join with me in the effort to encourage calmer students who are increasingly self reliant. I would like to see young people develop the ability to make mistakes without the horrible emotional breakdowns and constant worry that they got every detail perfectly right (or at least every single point possible). We all need to learn that failure or (fewer points on a piece of work) is not the end of the world.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Getting the Girls (and everyone else) Involved in STEM!

For years, there has been a lot of chatter about getting girls involved in traditionally male STEM careers like engineering in robotics and coding for computers. Actually, I would like to see more
support for all students who are interested in STEM activities. We have plenty of academic science and math courses. All students are required to take at least three years of science and math at my school. So girls see plenty of action in those fields at our school.

Unfortunately at this time, we offer no engineering courses and there are only a couple of advanced technology (all computer related) options. Obviously, the practical and hands on aspects of STEM are not yet being addressed in a formal classroom setting. I think funding, A-G requirements and credentialing contribute to this situation. We do have several STEM related clubs on my campus, including a robotics club, a health science club and a chemistry club.  

I am a co-advisor to one of the STEM clubs that competes with 40 other high schools in Southern California.  The name of the competition is Solar Cup, sponsored by Metropolitan Water District. Students construct a wooden canoe-style speed boat in which they put an electric battery powered motor that is recharged by solar panels. There are several facets to this competition including technical drawing and electrical engineering, construction, experimentation and design tests as well as research, creating technical reports, developing a business presence and a public service message about water conservation.

I am really proud to say that we have diversity among ethnic groups as well as gender balance in the LOHS Solar Cup Team. It helps to have a variety of tasks and ways to get the girls interested from the beginning phases of the event.  At the beginning of the year, we promote the club asking all potential team members if they are interested in art, racing, science and water conservation. I think the girls feel more comfortable being involved in a traditionally male dominated field (construction and engineering) because both advisors are women in addition to being science teachers. There are other women in the administrative support and organizational phases, but very few actually working with students to construct and engineer the boat. Neither of us is an engineering or construction professional, so we rely on the students to learn the process somewhat independently. We have been working with a parent volunteer who IS really good at mechanical design and construction. Needless to say, he has been invaluable in the technical aspects of the project. Our students develop expertise in these areas and they teach us new things all the time. The two of us have learned a great deal over the last few years about electrical design from our students, other advisors and the parents who volunteer to help us.

Since much of the engineering world is traditionally male-centric, I think it helps the girls to have a couple of willing and confident female role models. The boys also learn to view women and girls in these roles as well, so they won't be biased against females in this type of workplace.

I think it is interesting that some of our male competitors tend to overlook us- but our team is a force to be reckoned with. In our fourth year of participation, we have gone from 22 place (out of 40 schools) to 9th to 5th last year. This year we took 3rd place!

See what the sprint race (without solar panels) looks like from the vantage of the flag post (stern) of the boat.  Harry's Sprint Race (gopro video)

For several of our students (girls and boys alike) - it has been a life changing experience and has become a PASSION. Here are some of the choices our students have made as a result of the influence our club has had on their lives. One young man is finishing up his degree in materials science at Johns Hopkins University. A young lady is now majoring in mathematics at Cal Poly Pomona University. One of our girls is attending Chapman University majoring in theater production. Another young lady is currently in the nursing program at California Baptist University. One of our boys is at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo majoring in construction management. Two years ago, several of our seniors graduated and are currently pursuing majors in biology, engineering, astrophysics and environmental science.

This coming year we will have at least 2 seniors who are planning on going into engineering majors when they graduate. The male student is going to go into electrical engineering, which in itself is no surprise since he has been playing with wiring since he was a five year old. But our club gave him an outlet to shine and become a leader among his peers. The young lady got an opportunity to participate in an internship with a local solar electrical engineering start up firm. Her experience with us gave her the confidence to apply and the desire to move from biology to environmental engineering.

Would these students have chosen these career paths without our club? Yes, they might have selected STEM pathways, but they (or their parents) all have told us that our club was a major factor in that decision.  However, I believe that the opportunities we provide help them to know better what they are getting into. All of our students, girls and boys alike, get to have hands-on experiences in STEM related career pathways.

The only thing that might be better is to develop courses like this to allow students that opportunity to practice technology and engineering integration into science and math.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Saturday School Antics

Our school has Saturday School sessions. This year we have had 7 of them. They are organized to get back some of the average daily attendance funding that is lost when students are not in school. Students come to school for 4 hours and have a snack break of about 15 minutes.

In our school culture, Saturday School is usually considered a privilege or opportunity and an enriching experience rather than as a punishment. There is an attendance incentive for students wishing to attend dances. We have a program which identifies freshmen students who have not earned a passing number of credits; they are encouraged to attend to get tutoring and additional learning skills as well as get some make up work completed. During this time of year many Advanced Placement teachers run classes as an opportunity to take practice AP exams. Some teachers offer Saturday school as an opportunity to earn extra credit.

Since I teach a lab class, I can only take so many students (about 35 or 40) into my Saturday enrichment sessions. I can't over fill my class room because there is just not enough physical space or chairs. Students are scheduled into my sessions on a first come first served basis. My class usually fills up in less than 24 hours. I usually have a waiting list 10 or 15 students deep. You might ask why I have such a following for what would normally be considered  something negative. I think it is a combination of the extra credit available, but also because of the cool labs and fun learning activities we can do in an extended period of time. You can do so many things when you have willing participants and extra time to gather, process and analyze the data.

I love teaching during our Saturday School sessions. I really like the time I get to do science activities that normally could not be done in a regular 55 minute class period. I normally plan a lab and some form of study game or practice and analysis for a test. I sometimes use Saturday School for a chance to work on a project we are doing in my class.

Last Saturday was our latest event and last session for the year before school is out. Since we have finals coming up, I thought I would give students the opportunity to review past tests and compare their performance to their study guides and to practice with a final from previous years. This is where things get pretty interesting, because the day could have been really boring- even if it was informative. There was not going to be a lab this time, so I took additional students including all who were on the waiting list, so I had 43 students in my room. I rearranged the desks for maximum spacing and borrowed chairs and a table from the room next door, so everyone would have a place to sit.

I broke the time into 4 activities. Students reviewed their old tests and study guides. The were not allowed to use their phones to photograph or copy the questions, but they could write notes to help them determine what they would have to study most for the final. I gave them about an hour for that process so they could review a couple of their tests.

Next, I had them write practice final questions on a shared google doc. I have a shared cart in my room with 20 chromebooks and a small set of 7 different chromebooks that I had purchased with grant money. In addition, I have 4 old desktop PC's that we use when we need solo tools. For this activity some students had to share devices, so it was rather noisy- especially when I told them they COULD NOT goof around on the document. Within minutes, someone started a comment bar on the side and the jokes WERE going around which I allowed as long as they were classroom appropriate.  It was a bit of a chore to format the doc in a useful way, but they LOVED the idea that they could watch each other and their teacher working on a document at the same time. When someone discovered that there were too many people in the document they shouted it out and several left so that others could contribute.

Then I gave them the practice test from a previous year's class. They worked quietly for another hour or so on the practice final and later, I gave them a key when they were done so they could check their answers.
While they were taking the practice test, I was organizing their shared questions into a kahoot session. I uploaded their questions and answers with some editing- to be sure the answers were correct and the questions were understandable.

Once all students were done reviewing their tests and checking their answers, we played the Kahoot game. This is where things get fun. The question comes up on the projector  screen and students use their phones, chromebooks, iPads or computers as their responders. It is very competitive. Students answer the questions as rapidly as they can and the system gives them 30 or 60 seconds to click in an answer. Once all students have answered, the game tells them how many points they earned, what place they are in on their device and on the projector who is in the top five. I cannot believe how loud it gets in the room when my students play this game. The students find it super exciting!

When the time came for students to leave at noon, we still had several questions to go and they did not want to leave. So we kept playing until the end of the game. I was just astounded. The class left about 10 minutes past the end time on a Saturday! They kept wanting to talk about what place they were in and how much fun they had been having. We had played jeopardy before and they were never this engaged. They love doing the labs, but this was really fun!

I will have to think about trying to incorporate this into a regular class session more often- maybe breaking it up into 2 days. The development of practice test questions is a critical thinking skill. They must decide what information is relevant. They need to figure out how to pose it in a question format with answers. The idea that they can teach each other something and then check for understanding for immediate feedback is really intriguing to them.

Next year as I plan new activities for Saturday School, I will have to keep this in mind, since it was such a successful and positive endeavor. I cannot wait!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tales of A Conference Junkie

My name is Kathy Diver. 
I am an addict. 
I am a Conference Junkie.

Wait....What? Am I addicted to conferences and workshops??? 

Missing CUE 2014 but I'm
getting info from my Tweeps
I have asked myself this question several times over the last few days. All these tweets about the CUE 2014 Conference in Palm Springs has me missing an event that I have attended several years in a row. I am watching my twitter friends and CUE RockStar colleagues enjoying their sessions, presenting to attendees and going to the keynotes and wondering why I decided to schedule my spring vacation in Colorado at the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I am having a great time on my vacation- hiking, bicycling, brew tasting, and spending a quiet week -just my husband and myself. But I have to admit, there is a big part of me that would rather be in a crowded conference room learning new tech things and listening to the keynotes by Lavar Burton and Sal Kahn.

OK- Now that the admission is out of the way, I suppose I should explain why I consider myself a conference addict.

Conferences and workshops take time, energy and money. The resources I gain from attending professional learning events also take a great deal of effort and planning to incorporate into my lessons and teaching. What do I do to make it work and to get the most out of my experience?

How do I afford it?
John Stevens presents at our district
wide collaboration
I mentioned earlier that it takes time, energy and money to attend conferences. So here is what I do to pay for my conferences. First, I look for learning events that are FREE.  Obviously, the free short term events are great because you only have to spend your time and energy to get there. Many of these are held on Saturdays or after school hours. These days, Twitter, EdCamps and PlayDates are important components of my "free" learning. I use these sources for learning about technology use for my classroom. And I rarely pass up an opportunity to learn some new things on my local scene. Years ago, my former districts offered tech classes and Spanish classes after school during the week. My current employer recently had a district wide collaboration which I attended on a Saturday.

It IS a sacrifice of time. You have to decide if your personal obligations can allow for some professional enhancement. When my own kids were younger, the Saturdays were filled with soccer games and Girl Scout activities. After school hours were spent helping with homework and creating dinners. Family time was not a good trade off for my professional learning. When they were young, I was able to attend more summer activities. I tried to squeeze in occasional after school or weekend events during the school year. The calendar was more difficult to manage at that time in my life. Now that they are both grown up, I have more time to commit to my professional development.

I also pay for some conferences and workshops. INVESTING in my own learning makes me take it more seriously. Over the last 15 years, I have attended several California Science Teacher Association and CUE conferences on my own dime. Mostly, I pay for the travel and living expenses, while my principals have often found funding for the registration or substitutes. They know I will bring back new skills and ideas to share among my colleagues.  For them, it is a good investment of funds, because I am willing to share and teach others what I have learned.

There are a number of professional development opportunities for teachers to attend conferences that PAY a stipend to help compensate for expenses.  Some are sponsored by a local school district or county office of Education. Others are paid through grant funding from agencies such as National Science Foundation or NOAA. Still others are available because of the philanthropic nature of the "for profit" companies such as Discovery Education and ETS. I have participated in a number of these institutes over the years. They are generally competitive and require an extensive application. A simple internet search for "paid summer teacher workshops" or "paid summer teacher internships" will turn up a huge variety of learning opportunities. The sooner you check it out, the more opportunities you will find since many of applications for the competitive summer institutes close in the spring.

What I do when I am at a conference?
I PLAN my session choices depending on what I need to learn or what my school needs. I usually like to FOCUS ON A SPECIFIC AREA of interest for my practice. For example, the focus for my last trip to CSTA was to learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards. I was also looking for more lab activities to infuse into the current classes I am teaching (college prep biology). I looked at the sessions a couple of days ahead of time and planned out each of my days with the understanding that I also needed some time for some random things that might spark an interest. This concept of having a focus helps me to avoid "conference overload," where a participant may get too much of a good thing. Too many divergent concepts could create a head spinning and overwhelming feeling that there was too much to know and not enough time or brain power to understand it.

Participants at CUE Rock Star Napa
In order to get the best "bang for my buck," I plan to attend almost every session available, so that means I arrive a half hour or more before the first session starts and leave room in my schedule to stay until after the last session closes. If there are sessions that have similar classes or offerings more than one time, I try to work out my schedule to its best advantage, so that I can get the most from my experience. I try not to take breaks during session times unless there is no session of interest for me.

I try to get to the session EARLY so that I can sit close to the front. I have learned that arriving early to a session is better especially as I am now at an age when I do not want to sit on the floor when there is no seating space left in the room.  I like to interact a little bit with the presenter as they are preparing for their discussion. I have offered to help set up or even break down after a session. During the presentation, I like to ask questions that can help me in my practice. I try to get any paper resources if they are available for participants (an advantage for coming early).  For my last several conferences, I have used my iPad or computer to take notes and pictures so I can review them later to help infuse ideas into my teaching. I always save internet resources directly into my computer for later perusal. Even now, I use internet resources that I bookmarked 5 or 6 years ago at a conference.

I always try to bring small snacks (apples, string cheese, crackers, carrots) and water or iced tea. That way, I don't have to wait in line to pay conference venue prices for snacks or drinks on the go. If I am going to a conference with another person I know, I try to spend "free" time with them, so we can discuss what we have learned during the sessions. I like lunch and scheduled breaks for this kind of networking. It's also ideal if you have to "commute" with someone to the convention location. You can use that commuter time for debriefing and learning what they found out in the sessions they have  attended.

I also try to NETWORK with other conference participants. I have recently been active in the twitterverse and I now have many "cyberfriends" with whom I can share and discuss about the things I am learning. I love meeting up with these people face to face. Some of my twitter pals include some of the foremost people in their fields and seeing their presentations puts a new perspective on what is possible in my own teaching. These collective discussions create a bigger pool of learning where I can tap into and glean out precious nuggets for my own classroom. It is especially good for times like this week, when I am not on the conference site and I am still able to learn from the folks in my twitter feed to see if I can get any new resources for myself.

What I do when I get back to my classroom?
Prepping for future lessons
I like to DISCUSS my sessions with someone. My poor husband is sometimes my target, but I usually try to chat with others in my profession, so I can review and reflect on what I have learned. The day after my conference, I like to organize my notes and paper resources. At that time, I will review and rewrite all electronic notes I have taken during my sessions. I will reorganize the bookmarks I have made of any of the internet resources I have found. I look over my lesson plans for the next week, so that I can find some ways to incorporate at least 2 of the simpler things within the next few days. When there are more complicated and time consuming things, I tend to leave some of those for later use within the next month.

I try to INFUSE the most useful and interesting things as soon as I can. It keeps the ideas fresh in my mind. For example, I attended a screen casting session at CUE 2012. This was months before I had ever heard of "flipped instruction," but I could immediately see a use for recording my notes and lectures, so the following Tuesday, my students had to watch their very first screencast of class notes.

I will be attending Manhattan Beach CUE Rock Star
Yes, I am missing hanging out with my friends at CUE 2014 this week. I am sad that I am missing the Google Summit happening on the weekend. I know there will be other learning opportunities for me. In the meantime, I will feed my addiction to conference learning by having an informal 'appy hour or coffee cue with teachers in my school in the next week or so. I will be heading to San Francisco in April for the University of California Curriculum Integration Institute with my friend Mary Haus. I will be attending a district collaboration with the focus on NGSS for biology teachers early in June. I plan to attend the CUE Rock Star in Manhattan Beach with several colleagues late in July.

I have been thinking of using this topic as a conference presentation. I wonder if others feel the way I do about conferences and workshops. I have decided that being an addict of learning is really NOT a bad thing. If you are not a conference junkie yourself, maybe you should follow the process I have outlined above and infuse some excitement into your own practice. You won't believe how great it feels to be a lead learner among your students. They can sense your newfound energy and appreciation for learning and it will become an important model of what it is for all of us to be a life long learner.