STEM Educator Symposium: Day 2

This is the second of three guest posts from Chris Ryan, physics and philosophy teacher from Riverview High School in Riverview, New Brunswick. Chris is reporting from the STEM Educator Symposium in Fort Collins, Colorado. Enjoy.

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Morning Two (Algebra I)

I used to believe that the best Professional Development meant having real conversations with teachers who teach in similar content areas. This opinion changed when I saw Preston’s Algebra 1 class (as taught by the incredible Kathy Sampson). I now believe that the best Professional Development is to watch a highly effective teacher teach while being able to process what you are seeing in quiet side conversations.

Effective teachers can challenge strongly held beliefs. One belief that I have encountered is that students cannot handle highly challenging topics until they are sufficiently cognitively developed. @preses14 has flipped that notion on its head. I was able to see grade seven students engaging with curriculum that would normally be reserved for grades 10 and 11.

This has reinforced another belief that technology does not affect student performance. Curriculum does not affect student performance. A teacher’s pedagogical practice has a LARGE influence on student performance. This belief has been reinforced by watching a teacher create a culture of collaboration in an Algebra class. Putting the time into building the culture of a class pays its dividends many times over. It was evident that Kathy valued the culture of inquiry and allowing students to experiment with their own learning. It was pretty clear that this allowed students to feel confident and seemed to enjoy Math.


Afternoon Two

I knew that 3D printing has the potential to change the world. I was blown away a couple of years ago by this TED talk from Anthony Atala.

I was blown away again this afternoon by Dr. David Prawel (of Colorado State University), and by the STEM students of Fort Collins.

Dr. Prawel runs a lab that allows community members to enter his lab and print and experiment on the 3D printers he has procured for CSU. He was able to show some of the examples of what students and companies have been able to produce in his lab. These are items that run from artwork to medical applications and burrito holders to outsourced commercial products.

Dr. Prawel’s concise presentation was followed up by a question and answer period with students that have used 3D printers. It is inspiring to wonder what my top academic science student can do if a grade six student can design and print a replacement knee ligament for senior citizens.

Our school is in the process of acquiring a 3D printer and because of this conference, I can envision the way that I can change the teaching in my class. My students will now be able to create the products and models to experiment and prove concepts that we used to only be able to talk about in theory.

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See Chris’s first installment @preses14 here, and follow him on Twitter here. For more information on the STEM Educator Symposium, go here.

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