"I found today highly valuable because I was personally starting to feel like I was in a rut and needed some inspiration."
Some called the day inspiring. Some called the day energizing. Some simply called it STEMergizing! STEMergizing Saturday brought together over 70 educators, administrators, and UNCG staff for a half-day of engineering, collaboration, inquiry-based science, and inspiration. We brainstormed integration possibilities as we engineered mazes for our Hexbugs to navigate. We explored Wonder Boxes and discussed how students' questions can drive our science instruction. And then there were the Critical Friends Groups...
Let's be honest. Most of the institutes and professional development opportunities that UNCG STEM TLC offers are known for being active, fun, engaging, hands-on learning experiences. On the surface, Critical Friends Groups (small groups of teachers having deep, thoughtful, honest conversations and solving problems of practice in the classroom) doesn't seem to fit with our usual professional development experiences. However, it turns out that Critical Friends Groups are active, fun, engaging, and hands-on!
"I got the chance to talk to other like-minded, passionate teachers who didn't judge when I told them what I was struggling with. Instead, they supported me... we really supported each other. How often do we, as teachers, really get to do that???"
During the Critical Friends Groups, teachers actively dug into problems of practice and vexations surrounding the science and engineering instruction in their classroom. Together, teachers collaborated and engaged with one another, taking a hands-on approach, leveraging their professional expertise, and helping each other to improve their teaching practices.
"These groups were so meaningful! They made an impact because I was able to get fresh ideas from new perspectives. I think this will totally change how I approach things next week!"
As the Critical Friends Groups came back together, all the vexations that surfaced during the small group discussions were compiled. During a moment of reflection, teachers indicated which vexations
truly resonated with them. As one teacher said, "Isn't it amazing to see that we all struggle with the same things. But we don't realize it because we rarely take time for ourselves and to talk to our colleagues like this."
As one teacher said, "I love the sense of community that comes with the STEM TLC!" In essence, that's what STEMergizing Saturday was all about - community. A community of passioante, empowered teachers, willing to take part of their weekend to support one another, share their expertise, and learn with one another.
"It is an amazing experience that nourishes all of us as teachers and allows us to expand it in our schools - which will be a total benefit for our students and educational community."