Teachers Learning The Drill
An elite group of teachers across the country is finishing the last grueling days of a hard-core, brain-splitting, tear-inducing boot camp in science, technology, engineering and math.
from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are attending training
institutes put on annually by Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization
that provides STEM curriculum programs to middle and high schools across the
The concepts that Project Lead the Way expects
students to learn during the school year are rigorous -- pupils get hands-on
experience in robotics, aerospace and biomedical engineering projects. The
instruction is so rigorous that teachers, many of whom do not have advanced
knowledge in the STEM fields, are provided a two-week summer ultra-intensive
immersion program unlike anything they've done before.
"There is quite a range of levels of
expertise that the teachers bring with them," Steve Rogers, a summer
teacher trainer and an engineering and technology education teacher at Walker
Career Center in Indianapolis, told me. "Some teachers show up very
excited and knowledgeable, others have no idea what they are in for and, yes, it
does cause teachers to cry. Not because they're mad at you, but they've never
had professional development like this or been asked to perform at this level
for this long a session. That's quite a shock to a lot of people."
don't think I was attracted to this particular summer training camp because I
like the idea of making teachers cry. But I do love the idea that schools
across the country are taking seriously the notion that it is not only their
job, but their responsibility, to provide students with a world-class 21st
century STEM education that also expects -- and equips -- teachers to perform
at higher levels than they ever have before.
Plus, I like to do all I can to eradicate the
image that entitled, public-money-sucking teachers get "summers off."
It's true that too many instructors out there aren't yet preparing for the
coming school year because it takes no effort to copy last year's worksheets.
But my experience is there are way more who spend the month of July either in
formal training or doing other things to liven up the coming year's classes.
What better way than to be a student?
I went through it the first time, the one thing that happened to all of us
regardless of our skill level was that you immediately took on the role of the
student, which, for a teaching professional, is a little bit disconcerting
because you haven't been in that role for a while," said Lori Lovett, a
high school biomedical science teacher at Red River Technology Center in
Duncan, Okla. "But the trainers made themselves available for extra
sessions, and offered us all the same extra time and resources we'd need to
give in our own classrooms."
Rae, a science and engineering teacher at Lake Fenton Middle School in Michigan
who completed the program and eventually became a summer trainer, told me that
the technical expertise the educators learn is the main attraction. But the
immersion in team-based projects, which is the way almost all subjects are
supposed to be taught these days, is what sticks most with the boot camp
"Teachers leave here knowing exactly what
their students will go through and it gives them a chance to get that feeling
back of 'oh yeah, this is what it's like to learn and to get a new
perspective,'" Rae said. "One thing that's nice is that here, like in
real science and real life, we don't have to have all the answers -- but we can
find where to get the answers and it's OK to tell the students 'we'll learn
Project Lead the Way is just one example of how
schools are solving the problem of providing crucial STEM subject matter in
environments where teachers may not know enough to make such challenging
material come alive and students rarely get opportunities to immerse themselves
in highly demanding lessons so engaging that they come to love the hard work
required to master them.
these programs widely available isn't rocket science. Once the question of how
to fund excellent curriculums is answered, it just takes educators with a desire
to go the extra mile and the willingness to step outside their own comfort
Washington Post Writers Group