Science Leader and North American Regional MIT representative, Tom Collins, answers a Q&A about his and other teachers' experiences at a "PD," or professional development retreat at MIT this past summer. Find out what this means your children and our students here at the BISC Lincoln Park campus.
1) Can you tell me what you learned during PD week at MIT? What were the workshops like? What was the set-up?
During the PD week, we had a program of workshops, lectures and talks organized by MIT, which really broadened our horizons, broke frames and nudged our thinking. We learned about nuclear fission, plasma fusion, and the amazing chemical properties of calcium carbonate and how it changes depending on the way it's deposited, to name just a few of the experiences. The workshops were hands on, lectures were interesting and lunches with luminaries, captivating.
The days began with breakfast, followed by morning lectures, which showcased some of the cutting edge research currently happening at MIT. Each lunch break was enhanced with a talk from an MIT luminary, including leading experts in their fields and even an astronaut! Afternoons were a mix of workshops and lectures. Towards the end of the week, we were split into groups and were challenged to find a creative solution to a problem.
2) How did it feel to be going through PD at MIT?
The week was face paced, exhausting yet invigorating. Each day ended with a period of reflection and conversation. It was so refreshing to be stimulated at an undergraduate level again, in particular the lecture on nuclear fusion. This talk was a perfect opportunity for us to experience what our students feel as we constantly push our expectations of them. It made apparent the plasticity of the human brain, and how it can stretch when it is challenged with difficult concepts. To quote MIT, this style of learning is “to drink from the firehose."
3) What was the most interesting workshop?
The most interesting workshop was at the MIT Media Lab. We had the occasion to play with new technologies, which would enhance learning opportunities at school. Being able to use Scratch, Makey Makeys and Lego Wedo V2.0 in the department where they were developed was such a privilege. Each pair of colleagues found unique ways to use the tech and as a result we were able to take away lots of creative ideas. I can't wait for the children to get their hands on this technology.
4) How is what you’re learning through MIT different from professional development you’ve taken in the past?
In the past, PD opportunities in STEAM have been inspirational however they lacked a crucial aspect, hands on learning. The ethos we want our students to develop is that hands on, practical learning is as equally important as a purely scholarly route. By allowing us to experience this for ourselves, the PD week furnished us with the tools to bring this mindset to our community.
5) Are you excited about bringing what you’ve learned at MIT back to the classroom? Why?
I know that everyone who left the PD is excited for the next stage of the collaboration and how it will impact their learning environments. I will be bringing back the philosophy of trial and error, failing forward and learning by doing. This will enable our pupils to become ever evolving learners in an ever evolving world.
6) What new idea that you learned from MIT are you most excited about showing your students?
During the week we were given a challenge to 'hack' a hallway at MIT. A covert team struck at 11 p.m. and set up a giant game of twister in the hallway. Each color related to one of the silos of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). We wanted to show how reaching out and connecting different areas of STEAM can be a challenge, but also great fun. It was a hit, with MIT, even tweeting about it.
I'd like to showcase this to our students and staff, share with them MIT's hacker code and perhaps inspire a future generation of creative hackers.
7) How do you think this new approach to teaching STEAM will benefit your students?
STEAM is something I have been passionate about for a long time. It takes the idea of STEM and intertwines it with the arts. Soon engineering solutions become works of art, statistic become impactful infographics, the scientific method becomes poetry. The arts are intrinsically linked to STEM, why Pythagoras discovered the beauty of the golden ratio which influenced many feats of engineering and art in the ancient work. Just look at Fibonacci sequences in nature and you will see how science, engineering, technology and math follow rules governed by nature that are expressed as works of natural art.
Sharing this with the children will embolden them to take risks, make mistakes and get messy. It will ensure that they become creative problems solvers, as they head into an uncertain future.
8) How does is this new approach to learning STEAM different from what you, as a science/math/ arts/etc student, grew up with?
Growing up we had wonderful topic based learning and our teacher encouraged us to see connections and become creative problem solvers. During this time, I made so many memories and with the benefit of hindsight can see that I was being taught in a STEAM way. It’s important to remember that STEAM isn't necessarily a new concept; however it is heartening to see how this collaboration is raising its profile and importance in our schools.
9) What workshop resonated with you the most at PD week?
The workshop, which resonated with me the most, was in fact a tour of the plasma fusion centre. Here we learned about how whole centre operated and it really hit home with me how important the magnets being used here were. The reason it stuck with me was that I had just taught a unit about magnetism with my year 3 classes, and here I had a bigger picture of how we use magnets in cutting edge scientific studies. It brought back to me the importance of good basic instruction and understanding in science, and how this scaffolds our pupil's learning journey.
10) What are your aspirations for your students as a science, maths, arts, tech, etc teacher and how does PD at MIT help those aspirations?
I am passionate, first and foremost as a science teacher; I want my students to develop a love of the subject. Second to this is my dedication to developing STEAM. I want my students to see how these disciplines fit together for themselves. I know this will take time and a carefully planned learning journey. I am confident the PD has energized all of those who took part. It gave us an opportunity to see just how powerful this collaboration can be for our learners, and this means we can be ambitious with our challenges for them.
11) Anything else you would like to add?
This collaboration is one which will benefit all. Through taking students to MIT in April, I know we will inspire our learners to think ambitiously about their careers. For the colleagues who attended the PD in July, I know that the excitement and enthusiasm is still there. We are now entering a very exciting time for NAE. We will have many successes and we will no doubt fail forwards but, as I always tell my pupils, to "F.A.I.L." is to take the “First Attempt In Learning".