2013 International K-12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning: What an Adventure!

As the temperature cools and crowds slowly begin to leave our nation's capital, one thing is certain (OK, maybe two things are certain): summer is nearly over, and the SSEC's 2013 International K-12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning has come to a close. This year at the 69th institute, the SSEC hosted 72 people representing 14 teams from 5 states across the US and a special delegation from Mexico.They all joined us in Alexandria, VA, for the purpose of creating a strategic plan to transform science education in their districts based on the SSEC's LASER Model (Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform).

This was a new adventure for us, as it was our first opportunity to see a program of this type. Katherine joined the SSEC last fall, and Jen has been working almost exclusively on Professional Development during her time with the SSEC.Since we were both first-timers, we came to the institute with unique perspectives. For both of us, the institute stood out as a platform for the five pillars to stand on and envelopes the work that everyone in our office does on a daily basis.Below we have outlined our adventures from the week.

The Change Game:

What better way to start off the week than by playing games! Monday morning started by establishing one of the themes for the week: The importance of building a strong base for change.  Participants (and a team made up of SSEC staff members) played "The Change Game."

Teachers playing the Change Game

This team is racing against the clock to institute change in their district during the Change Game.

Playing the game gave us significant insight into what the participants at our institute might face within their school districts; that change is freakin' hard. It is hard to get change to happen without going through the proper channels, and it is crucial to gain support from individuals or specific groups of people.But at the same time, when do you accept that someone is not interested in your idea of change and move on to someone who might be more receptive to your new ideas?

Workforce Site Visits:

After participants learned that they had their work cut out for them, we decided to step outside for a bit of fresh air (or in Jen's case--visit a sewage treatment plant). We headed out on Workforce Site Visits, which were a favorite amongst the group. We visited great locations around the Washington DC Metropolitan area, and our partners there worked not only to explain what they do at their facility, but how they came to their current profession and the important role that education and educators played in getting them there. 

This was a fun and interactive way to flesh-out the Community and Administrative Support pillar of the LASER Model, allowing participants not only to see what sort of partnerships they might be able to build with organizations in their areas, but also allowed people to conceive of potential career paths for the students in their districts.

Teachers learning about STEM careers at waste water recycling at AlexRenew

Modeling hard-hats and learning about STEM careers in waste water recycling at AlexRenew

Teachers at the mosquito lab

Mosquitoes? Don't worry! Scientists at the Alexandria Department of Health trap and study mosquitoes to keep us safe!

Teachers at National Museum of Natural History


Teachers going behind the scenes at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History...Look at the size of that fish's jaw!

Professional Development

Wednesday we were back at it to address one of the core components of the SSEC reform model: Differentiated Professional Development. Without it, well... the LASER Model would be like Sam, our Intern, without his morning coffee--he just doesn't work.

Sam Sleeping

teachers doing professional development

Teachers learn how to use Professional Development to develop competent teachers into experts.

Differentiated Professional Development is also Jen's favorite topic. 

Teams examined the fundamental concepts of differentiated professional development and reflected on where their own districts fell within that spectrum.

Led by a team of experienced facilitators, participants learned how professional development can lead teachers in their districts from novices to experts. Together, they explored different frameworks for professional development and discussed how they can employ the expertise of existing professional development models to build capacity in their districts over time. It was truly exciting to hear teachers share their own success stories as part of LASER i3 and Washington State LASER projects--and there were distinct "oohs" and "aahs" heard from the crowd.

Materials support

One thing we learned on our adventure is that everybody loves stuff and science can't be taught without it! This made learning about materials support systems particularly enlightening.  We loved it, the participants perhaps less so.

Leadership teams worked through budgeting scenarios that addressed funding and maintaining an effective materials support system. Then, through a simulated materials support center, teams received science kits in various conditions and were tasked with restoring the kits to their original state.

Teachers restoring kits

restocking kits

We never thought restocking a science kit would be so difficult- We still can't find that planter ring!

If you've ever worked at a materials support center--or as a teacher, for that matter--you'll know to exercise caution when opening a used science kit. You'll also know that it takes a great deal of ingenuity, patience, and teamwork to refurbish and share kits, especially when the helpers at the support centers aren't particularly helpful.

Amy helping teacher restock kits

The End of Our Adventure:

At the onset of our adventure we witnessed teams that felt disjointed, without a shared vision or an understanding of the role that they could play in science education in their communities.

Over the course of the week, they gained a breadth of knowledge and practical support, developed ideas as a team, and began to understand what individual roles and strengths they could contribute to create a strategic plan. They developed successful strategies to improve science teaching and learning in their districts.

As the Institute and our adventure came to a close, Katherine's heart became sad, thinking of all the hard work that had gone into her first event with the SSEC. Then Jen reassured her that this was not the end of an adventure, but the beginning of many new ones.

The SSEC is hard at work developing new strategies to track the progress of these teams and support them in the implementation of their plans. We look forward to watching them progress on to the next phase of their own adventures in transforming science education.

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