A Teacher's Perspective
The following blog was written by LASER i3 New Mexico teacher and Site Coordinator Chrissy Romero. Ms. Romero teaches at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has been an immeasurable asset to the LASER i3 project since the first summer of training in 2011. Ms. Romero has demonstrated exceptional commitment to the program; she has supported and trained her fellow teachers, and she has been involved as both participant and faculty member at leadership development institutes. The SSEC would like to thank Ms. Romero for her dedication and for sharing her reflections on LASER i3 with us.
The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) recently hosted the LASER i3 Strategic Planning Institute (SPI) for New Mexico LASER i3 schools at the Sheraton Uptown in Albuquerque. As we approach the last year of the grant, the focus was on creating strategic plans that would help school districts continue inquiry science in the future. It was apparent from the participation and excitement that we have come a long way since the first teacher trainings in 2011.
Chrissy Romero (at left) looks on as participants at the 2014 NM SPI begin the "Change Game," a research-based simulation to gain strategies for effecting change in a school system.
I started as a site coordinator at those first trainings, managing the program at my school, and I was slightly overwhelmed by the scope of the project. Working through the STC™ Electric Circuits unit in the training showed me that this was not your ordinary science program. But I knew that the challenge during the first year came with buy-in and sustainability. Getting all of the teachers on board was not easy; not everyone is comfortable teaching science. In the summer of 2012, we attended the how-to training for our second kits as well as content training to build our own background knowledge. Then we sat down at our first SPI and created strategic plans to continue the program beyond the grant funding period, which was difficult. My district was in the midst of hiring a new superintendent, and much of our administration was changing as well. Some districts had very small teams, and in some cases, teachers were trying to make decisions without input or support from their principals or administrators. Everyone took those first tentative steps toward sustainability.
Parts of my team's plan were implemented over the past two years because we were a part of the LASER i3 project. Returning to school that first fall, we were all thrilled when materials really arrived on our doorsteps. Student excitement and engagement gave even reluctant teachers the nudge needed to try the first activities. Over the next two years, we built confidence and capacity in this inquiry science program. Teachers became trainers in condensed kit trainings. Some of us also became Level 2 co-facilitators through the WestEd Academies and put our new skills into practice at the next summer trainings. Through this we saw that we could support teachers by developing trainers within our region. Maybe sustainability was possible after all.
During the summer of 2013, I also had the opportunity to participate in an SSEC International SPI as a novice faculty member. It was amazing to see district teams working to build a program for inquiry science for their schools. Many teams started by choosing materials and planning for support and professional development (PD). We already had these pieces in place. How could we keep it going? I talked with fellow faculty members and district team members and made note of those ideas that would help us in our planning.
This June, my district team had two returning members from the LASER i3 2012 institute, so I chose to be a part of the faculty for this SPI. I wanted to show the kind of teacher growth that was possible with this program. Many teams revised the plans they created in 2012, while others created new plans. Sharing their experiences and needs with their teams empowered teachers to become team leaders in the development of the plans. We spent time revisiting criteria for choosing materials, gaining administrative and community support, creating shared goals, and planning for the PD needs of the various teacher groups. As a faculty member, I worked with three districts as they discussed possible solutions. I also participated as a member of my district team in some of their planning.
During the upcoming final year of the grant, I will be working with my district to put our plan into action. A big piece is the support of the LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Foundation and developing more community partnerships. We were excited about the LANL Foundation's interest in building on their ongoing commitment to inquiry science in northern New Mexico. Another important step will be creating an inventory of materials and experience in our classrooms. What kits do we have and how can we maximize their use? Which teachers need training and what kinds of training do they need? Which teachers are trainers? How can we best use their skills to meet the needs of our district? Small steps, but important for success.
Thinking back to the LASER i3 SPI in June, I think I benefited most from the discussion about engaging the community and administration to support the program. There is never enough time or money. But, I learned how to address the question, "Why should we support this program?" I've already started practicing on parents who asked, "So, what did you do this summer?" Well, let me tell you about the great science program that we use in our schools...