First and foremost, this award is NOT about me, but rather a collective recognition for so many people who have helped mold me into the teacher I am today. It is for all the colleagues and administrators past and present who have taught along side me and pushed me in my practice. It is for my mentors in the scientific teaching community, science leaders in my district, and others at organizations partnering with CPS who are committed to advancing science education in our country. It is for all the students who in my career, were and are just as enthusiastic about STEM education as I am, and who each and every day help everyone in our classroom figure something out. It is for all the parents who knowingly trusted me with their child(ren) to let them dig deeper into understanding science and develop a love for it. And lastly, this incredible honor is a thanks to my friends and family, who have pushed me in to continually learning myself, along with supporting me through late nights, weekends, and summers of becoming the teacher I am today.
So as unoriginal as this may sound, there are no better words to express than thank you. Thank you to each and everyone one of you who has been a part of my incredible journey as a teacher.
Day 1: Monday, June 24, 2018
Getting from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
Day 2: Tuesday, June 25, 2018
Arriving at the Welcome Reception
- Someone in our lives inspired us to teach.
- Never underestimate what you do with students.
- Take risks...lots of them and often!
- Never stop learning.
Day 3: Tuesday, June 26, 2018
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Today we had the honor of being a part of the State-Federal STEM Education Summit, an event hosted by The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Leaders from each State and Territory were represented from the business, education, and policy sectors and as PAEMST Awardees, were were included in on the discussions in creating the next Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education 5-Year Strategic Plan. Talk about AMAZING!
1. Impact of current (2013-2018) Federal 5-Year STEM Education Strategic Plan on State STEM programs and policies.
2. Trends and priorities in Federal STEM Education.
3. Federal role in supporting State STEM Education.
Much of our conversations focused on:
1. Sustainability around increasing the diversity and inclusion of all Americans in STEM programs.
2. Support around the beauty in mathematics, powerfully linking all other aspects of STEM.
3. STEM learners solving societal challenges alongside demonstration as assessment.
So in other words, our country needs to make it a priority that all people have access to STEM programs that meet their needs in their communities, working towards beyond their communities. It's also the nation's job to make sure that these programs are accessible and sustainable for everyone. And lastly, learning needs to be real and meaningful. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, you will come to a roadblock and thinking with a STEM lens can only strengthen your perspective and ultimately, your outcomes.
As teachers, we all stressed the importance of continuous learning and sustainable, supportive professional development, and that we were willing to take on the challenge of beginning this plan with the youngest of students. We just need the right help and resources to do it. We certainly can't do this alone and without the tools to see the plan grow, evolve, and flourish.
Everything we said was documented, and writers of the next STEM-Education 5-Year Strategic Plan stressed to hear teachers' voices. I am excited to see what this document looks like. Until then...
Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery
The Awards Ceremony
As I sat there, I thought about how everyone in that room works really hard within the four walls of their classroom. But a big take away message I heard from the days' events were to make our voices heard, to reach out beyond our classrooms and share our stories and successes with others, whether that be teachers, administrators, policy makers, or others, and to take more risks in advancing STEM education in our nation.
A former awardee said that from receiving the PAEMST Award, many doors would open. But what will be important, the past Awardee said, is that even though the PAEMST Award is certainly humbling, we also have an expertise in something that needs to be shared through every door we choose to pass.
Day 4: Wednesday, June 27, 2018
1. Virtual platforms to share high-quality teaching in-action.
2. Regional conferences to reconnect--there's nothing like a face-to-face meeting.
3. Meeting with policy makers to share the voice for K-6 STEM education "demands."
The White House
Skip this part if you haven't been my student (or just read it because you're curious):
While waiting to get into the White House, you have to go up this ramp, by yourself. A Secret Service agent stops you, makes you stand on this special mat, and there's this GIANT FAN blowing on you. Next to you, on the other side, is a big metal wall with slits in it, so that the wind blowing on you can reach whatever is on the other side of the wall, through the slits. Well, guess what's on the other side of the wall? Dogs. Yup, working dogs just smelling all the particles that are flying off you left and right due to the wind, and obviously, anyone with something that sets the dogs off may signal you're a risky individual to be welcomed into the White House. It made me think of why I smell something from a distance, or why those flies are able to smell the decomposing badger from afar. Yup, it always comes back to the badger, guys! I literally shouted, "I teach my students this stuff! A real world application of particles!" The Secret Service agent just laughed at me, but I bet it was the best thing anyone said to him all day!
At this point, we eventually made it into the White House for a self-guided tour, and it was really interesting to see the place where all of our Presidents have lived and worked.
Double Tree and Back to Chicago
Upon my return to Chicago, there were lots of individuals from near and far offering their congratulatory messages. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Did you meet the President of the United States?
Are you okay with that?
That's a tricky question with a tricky answer. There's a lot going on in our country right now that is really challenging to comprehend, especially as a parent, as a woman, and as a science teacher who teaches my students to make decisions based on evidence. I am also honored to have won this award, which is the nation's top honor for mathematics and science teachers. I will leave it at that.
Your award is for 2016, but you were honored in 2018. Why is that?
Honestly, I don't know why there was such a delay, but NSF and the folks at EASE were incredible.
What's the application process like?
A former colleague first nominated me in 2011, and I completed the application process three times in 2012, 2014, and 2016, being named a state finalist all three times. The application entails a video submission, a lengthy written response, and multiple letters of recommendation. My 2016 submission was with 6th graders from Alcott. These students just graduated and are on to high school!
Is it true that you got all the way to Washington, D.C. and still had to keep this award a secret?
Yes. The official press release didn't come out until late Monday afternoon, after we had already had the Welcome Reception!
So when did you find out you would be awarded?
I got an FBI request for a background check in July of 2017. This is apparently the "signal" that you won but you're not allowed to say anything about it for security reasons. So I waited and waited for the announcement all school year, but couldn't say a thing. And then, in mid-May of 2018, I got asked for a background check again. My travel was cleared just at the end of the school year, and then, I was in D.C. not even a week after school got out!
What are you going to do now that you won?
I'm still going to be teaching 5th/6th grade science at Alcott while working on NextGen Science Storylines stuff. I love them both, and as I say to my students, #ilovewhatido.