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4 Takeaways from a Summer of Museum-based Professional Development

Professional Learning

Looking back at the 2017 Teacher-in-Residence program at the Boston Museum of Science


The Boston Museum of Science can make a prestigious claim: it’s New England’s most-attended cultural institution. With world-class interactive exhibits (think IMAX and planetarium shows, 4-D films, a butterfly garden and hands-on demonstrations), programs and K-12 curricula, it opens the world of STEM to over 1.5 million visitors each year.

The Teacher-in-Residence Program

Besides being a tremendously fun place to visit, the Museum of Science is chock-full of learning experiences — for educators as well as kids. For the past ten years, it has hosted a summer Teacher-in-Residence program in which a select group of teachers spend 5 weeks in project-based learning.

“Often people think about a museum like ours as a great place for teachers to bring kids on field trips,” said Lesley Kennedy, the museum’s manager for Teacher Professional Development, “which it is — but it’s not as common for people to think about it as a great place for teachers to come and learn themselves.”

Teachers-in-Residence are considered program participants in professional development. They spend 60% of their time on a primary project, with the remaining time split between independent investigation and group work with other participants. It’s good for all involved: the teachers gain content and pedagogical experience, the museum gleans insights from the classroom teachers and school districts benefit as teachers develop leadership skills.

In 2017, Frontline Education sponsored scholarships for two of the seven teachers participating in the Teacher-in-Residence program: Jayne Kerner and Rachel Garcia.

Jayne, a 6th grade science teacher at F.A. Day Middle School in Newtonville, MA, spent her summer working with Lesley and another middle school teacher to design an institute for teachers around the physics of waves, and the role of waves in information transfer. With the rollout of new science standards, the learning centers and tools they developed will be helpful to many 4th and 6th grade teachers who may not have experience teaching this content.

Rachel, a 2nd grade teacher at Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, MA, is in her 11th year teaching. She worked with another Teacher-in-Residence to develop a computer science curriculum for PreK-3, preparing a pilot program to roll out to a large number of schools.

I spoke with Rachel and Jayne during their last week at the museum. Both had great things to say about their experience and were excited to return to the classroom to apply what they’d learned. I asked them to share some takeaways from the summer.

Play is integral to learning.

Museums excel at incorporating play: they create exhibits and let participants engage and direct their own learning. Rachel highlighted how such kinesthetic learning can build connections and help students and teachers slow down and dive into a subject. “Engineering design challenges are really fun, and kids learn so much. You can learn so much about your students when you’re watching them engage in an engineering design process… We have a lot of curricula to teach each school year, and sometimes it feels like, ‘All right, let’s go, we’ve got to go.’ But there is so much value in learning in the moment, and letting the moment happen rather than forcing it.”
Jayne also noted that the experience made her evaluate how she incorporates play in her own classroom. “Our experience this summer was just getting time to play with science, with each other, and it was so valuable for my own learning. As I go into the school year, as a teacher, how can I maximize this?”

Museums are halls of learning.

“There are so any levels and layers within the museum. The museum educators are a very valuable tool, and if I want to extend my classroom learning, I can involve some of the museum-created curricula into my classroom. The staffers are incredible, and are really thoughtful about the learning process, about the scientific mind, about how best to reach children with certain techniques, tools or content,” said Rachel. “There is so much education in this museum that typical visitors don’t see.”

Jayne found it especially helpful as she thought through professional development. “I had to think like a museum educator,” she said, “which was a fun challenge for me, because I’m used to teaching 6th graders. Figuring out how you’ll teach adults is a really valuable experience, and Lesley was helpful in showing us how museum educators approach teaching learners of all ages.”

Collaboration is vital.

Any seasoned educator can echo the importance of peer feedback and collaboration with colleagues, but this intensive summer program brought it to the forefront. After each participant conducted independent investigations, they presented their findings for peer review to the museum staff and other Teachers-in-Residence, modeling how scientists work.

“You really want to be constantly bumping your work off peers and getting constructive criticism to help you refine your own thinking, consider alternative explanations and move your work forward,” said Lesley.
Rachel talked about watching a group of teachers and high school students working on a communication game involving puzzle pieces.

“It was interesting to watch the teachers who were at that particular table communicate in one way, and the teachers communicate in another way, and how they moved the pieces around. Some stood up to move their pieces. Some held it right up to their face. Some helped others and watching that, seeing that leadership and problem-solving don’t just have to be solo activities — there’s a lot of strength in numbers, putting two brains together, and celebrating the success afterward.”

Step outside your usual sphere.

Jayne also saw the fruit of collaboration, especially with teachers who work with different ages of students.

“One of the most valuable things for me was being around educators of different grade levels. I’m fortunate that my school has a strong culture of collaboration — I have mentors and colleagues who will work with me and share ideas… but what I don’t have is access to teachers who teach other grades.”

This was especially important as she thought about how science standards apply to different grades. It made her think through how she can broaden her knowledge of the content accordingly — exploring what students have learned prior and how to frame topics to better prepare them for future grades.

Taking the learning back home

The goal, Lesley said, is equipping teachers to take their knowledge back to their schools and districts, impacting students and other teachers.

“I always hope that when a teacher leaves this program, in addition to the rich learning and deep thinking about their practice they’re engaged in, that their zone of influence is a little bit bigger…. Then I’m hoping that they’ll think, ‘Wow, I contributed to the educational landscape in a different way. In what other ways might I contribute?’”

Neither Rachel nor Jayne was ready for the program to end. I asked Jayne what she would have done differently. “I would get here earlier and stay later, because it goes really fast. I can’t believe five weeks are gone.”

And to anyone thinking of applying for the program next year?

“Do it. Absolutely do it. Don’t even hesitate.”
 

About Ryan Estes

Ryan works at Frontline Education writing, blogging and creating content to support those working in K-12 education.