Science teachers know we’re all made of stardust! So does Amanda K. Wilson. As her Twitter handle (@AKWStardust) shows, this professional development specialist is just as passionate about science as she is about helping teachers implement great STEM curricula.
Amanda is part of the IAT Professional Learning team (a team of science educators and authors who travel nationwide to train teachers to implement project-based STEM curricula, as well as NGSS and Common Core standards).
The benefits of project-based learning (PBL) have been well-established, and more and more teachers are bringing PBL curricula into their classrooms. Professional learning experts like Amanda help them get started with the planning, methodology, and mental shifts required in addition to supporting them throughout the process.
The teachers Amanda trains are in good hands. A former science teacher at Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, Amanda has been implementing IAT’s STEM curricula for the past 10 years. She also collaborates with stakeholders on numerous state committees and organizations for the advancement of science education. She’s a big personality with big ideas, and she’s well-respected for her passion and commitment to science education.
When working with science teachers who are looking to get the most out of their professional learning, Amanda thinks about students first. In an unusual reversal, Amanda puts teachers in their students’ place. Educators become problem-based learners, completing hands-on projects themselves to learn the curriculum from every angle, and experience it the way their kids do. Professional learning becomes “learning by doing.”
In a recent interview with EDUCATION INSIDER (Earth Day 2014: Science Instructional Specialist Amanda Wilson on Teaching Climate Change), Amanda told us that what she enjoys most about teaching teachers is “taking them out into the field … and having them explore the environment and create investigations that they can then take back into their classrooms. That is one of the most powerful things that I’ve had the opportunity to do with teachers — provide them the opportunity to get out and see the world maybe through a different lens, where they’re the students and not the educator.”
Amanda also encourages teachers to engage and collaborate in the virtual world as well. Complementing in-person experiences with online learning does more than make professional development more convenient, as she mentions in our interview below. It also helps teachers learn from each other’s successes. Amanda is also an enthusiastic supporter of communicating successes, new research, and tips with colleagues through social media. She knows that such communication is key to growing and maintaining a healthy online learning network, and how powerful a tool it can be.
“Virtual learning is going to personalize the professional development experience in the coming years. Providing meaningful virtual learning opportunities and communities of practice will cultivate changes in practices that will propel STEM education.” — Amanda Wilson
Amanda touts online education and digital media as a way to personalize the professional learning experience. In fact, she envisions personalization as the very future of professional development. Online education offers unprecedented opportunities for customizing the learning process to suit different styles. Online platforms can tailor education to meet the needs of the individual – an approach that can benefit educators as much as students. And by giving teachers the autonomy to choose and help develop their learning experiences, online platforms can make them more active participants.
Personalized teacher education is gaining ground. Learning is a very “personal endeavor,” George Curos (@gcuros), Division Principal for Parkland School Division and founder of The Principals of Change, agrees. In a recent blog post, 5 Questions To Drive Personal-Professional Learning, Curos notes that we must apply the same autonomy, mastery, and purpose that goes hand-in-hand with PBL to our own professional learning as well. “In a world where more and more people realize their voice matters, simply engaging people is not enough. People need to feel empowered in the process of work and learning. The shift from compliance to empowerment is essential in organizations today. [F]ocusing on [those principles] in developing our professional learning plans is crucial [to] the development of both individuals as well as our organizations.”
“From Twitter chats to edcamps, ‘play dates’ and action research, teachers are increasingly making the choice to differentiate their learning based on need, urgency, and passion,” writes teacherpreneur Emily Vickery (@ehvickery) in her MiddleWeb post, Take Charge of Your PL This Summer.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Amanda about her experienced take on personalized, digital, and in-person professional learning. Read on for her words of wisdom.
Amanda: The best part of being a professional development specialist is inspiring teachers to implement student-centered experiential learning activities into their classrooms. Through modeling, I demonstrate how implementation can work in any classroom. Once the teacher experiences learning through hands-on activities, they are more likely to try it in their classroom with success. I believe the best way to have a change in practice is for the teachers to be active participants in the professional learning experience. If they have a positive learning experience, and we determine what made it positive, they are more likely to try those strategies in their classrooms. If they see how they learn best, usually by “doing” science, they will create opportunities for their students to “do” science.
Education Insider: What trends in professional learning do you think we’ll be seeing in the coming school year?
Amanda: Virtual learning is going to personalize the professional development experience in the coming years. Professional learning needs to be differentiated, tailored to the learner, just like in the classroom. Teachers know what type of professional learning experiences they need and want. I envision teachers being more active in the selection and development of the learning they participate in. Virtual professional learning has many benefits: it’s tailored to the needs and wants of the teacher; they have buy-in and will be more active in the learning process; and it’s available anytime during the day, when it’s convenient for the teacher. Providing meaningful virtual learning opportunities and communities of practice will cultivate changes in practices that will propel STEM education.
Education Insider: How do you build online support for STEM (or work with STEM educators online)? How do you incorporate this into your professional learning workshops?
Amanda: I believe a blended approach (face-to-face and online) to professional learning is a growing trend that will benefit teachers. Providing a venue that is available anytime, and almost anywhere, allows teachers to connect with other teachers, STEM professionals, and coaches when it’s convenient for them.
Technology is sophisticated to a point that sitting in a school library after school for professional learning could become the exception, not the norm. For online support to work, the users need to feel comfortable building relationships through writing and sharing of ideas. Often an initial face-to-face meeting is needed to introduce the new members to the online platform that will be used for the professional online community. A robust online community of practice is dependent on the facilitator’s role is attracting community members, hosting online events, posting discussion questions that people are interested in, and most importantly, following up with community members. These are all aspects of great face-to-face support, also. Staying connected to members could be as easy as reaching out through conventional social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Sharing new research trends, other professional learning opportunities, or classroom resources strengthens the connections between the members and cultivates the idea that learning is a cycle and ongoing.
As a side note, this is a tough question. Those of us trying to build an online support platform still struggle with this question. The adage, “if you build it they will come” is not working as quickly as developers had hoped. But I do believe that there are a few must-haves to improve the success of an online support platform.
Education Insider: Considering all of the workshops you’ve done this past school year, what did you learn from teachers?
Amanda: Every group of teachers I work with brings knowledge and experience to the workshop. Many teachers have successful STEM programs in their schools already. I love to hear the great things that teachers are doing to engage students in the learning process. Having teachers share their successes builds a community of practice locally that I hope they will continue to cultivate. I love to hear about new online tools and data sets that teachers are using to bring in real-world connections. The Internet is so vast, having others share online resources that work is essential.
Education Insider: What advice, suggestions, or tools would you recommend for teachers who are looking to get the most out of STEM professional development this summer?
Amanda: We as educators need to model lifelong learning behaviors. I encourage all teachers to explore opportunities to learn every summer. Most universities have teacher institutes during the summer, or teacher-in-residence programs. Many museums and other agencies like NASA, NOAA, and AMS have worthwhile summer learning opportunities also. And remember to share your learning experiences with your students at the beginning of the year. Students need to see that even adults continue to learn, and that learning is FUN!
Follow and tweet Amanda Wilson on Twitter at @AKWStardust.
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