How Do You Motivate Teachers to Get Excited for the New School Year After Just Ending Another?

What an experience! I recently participated in the Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers on Biodiversity,  a week-long professional development program, and all I can say is “WOW!”  Once I arrived in Washington, D.C. I realized that I was in for an unbelievable educational and personal experience.

Teachers came from all around the country: California, Texas, South Dakota, Michigan, Vermont, and Virginia. After checking in, all 18 teachers met for an introduction, dinner, and a program overview. An icebreaker, led by Nate Erwin, had us place organism pictures on our backs and give each other clues to the identity of our mystery organisms. This had us laughing and getting to know one another. One of the Smithsonian Science Education (SSEC) staff, Katie Gainsback, prepared us for the week, explaining the agenda for each day. Looking at the agenda once I got back to my room, I knew that I was in for an exhilarating week!

Photo credit: Smithsonian Science Education Center

Monday: We started the day with Dr. Matt Vrazo, who took us on a journey using the giant timeline in the Museum of Natural History. This was a great way to help us understand the beginning of biodiversity on this planet. Next, we worked in the Q?rius Lab with Sally Bensusen, who helped us embrace our artistic side and identify ways to use art in our science classes. To finish the day, Dr. Bob Matthews showed us how to use Mud Dauber Ecology in the classroom. Boy, will my students shriek when they open up the nests and find all those spiders!

Tuesday: We returned to the Q?rius Lab with Gary Hevel and Erin Kolski where, while working in peer groups, we classified various unknown insects. Next, Melinda Higgins showed us how to use smartphone microscopes, which I am positive my students will love! Melissa Csikari then introduced us to Biointeractive from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We finished the day by sketching scenery from the pollinator gardens in our sketchbooks.

Photo credit: Smithsonian Science Education Center

Wednesday: Field trip day! We boarded a bus and headed to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, where we met Karen McDonald and Dr. Katja Schulz. We were introduced to iNaturalist, and, using the app in conjunction with our smartphone microscopes, we investigated aquatic and terrestrial organisms. It was quite interesting to learn about the zombie crab parasite that has invaded the Chesapeake Bay. My fellow teachers and I thoroughly were exhausted by the end of this day, but were thrilled with investigating nature with our new tools.

Thursday: Another jam-packed day! We started in the Smithsonian Gardens to sketch the same scenery from the gardens that we did on Tuesday. It is amazing how the light from the different times of day and the difference in just one and a half days can affect the same scenery. We continued the day with Melinda Peters showing us around the Botany collection at the museum. Dr. Abby Telfer then led us through a simulation that would allow us to show our students how climate change can be studied through the use of leaf fossils. Jean Flanagan showed us how to access Smithsonian publications to be used in our curriculum.  Dr. David Pawson kept us in stitches with his diversity of starfish presentation. After lunch, Dr. Amy D’Amico shared her love of the tobacco hornworm. We dissected the hornworm and looked at its internal structures. What a great way for us to teach metamorphosis to our students! That evening, we all met at the District ChopHouse and Brewery for a celebration dinner. What a wonderful time relaxing, sharing, and networking with new friends over a wonderful meal!

Photo credit: Smithsonian Science Education Center

Friday: Wrap up! We started with a group photo and continued with a discussion on stridulating with Nate. I loved the different sounds that we all came up with. Dr. Teresa Feo showed us around the bird collections of the museum and shared her research on the hummingbirds. This brought our week to an end, but I left feeling refreshed and excited about the year ahead.

Overall, I can say I have never learned so much and enjoyed so much learning in my 27 years in education as I did at the Smithsonian Science Education Academy for Teachers. The passion shown by each presenter was contagious with all the participants. I can’t wait to use what I learned in the classroom and hope to be able to participate next summer in another academy offered by the Smithsonian!