Somewhat undefined, but a good fit so far

That’s how I would describe my new job. It doesn’t have a job description, the fellow spearheading the whole STEM effort quit to take a new job right before school started, and there’s no all important (in education) evaluation rubric. The principals I report to don’t really know what I should be doing. Luckily I’m a self-starter and am committed to making our STEM program work so I’ve hit the ground running (hoping that I’m running in the right direction).

As Secondary STEM Coach I am a resource for the Junior High and High School teachers who want to bring hands on project based learning that connects to real world problems into their classroom. Although I was warned that the High School teachers were resistant to change (okay – that’s what the Junior High teachers said) they have jumped right in. In the first 5 weeks of school I’ve been asked to provide information on building model brains (psychology teacher), for hands on activities to help students demonstrate their understanding of ratios and proportions (math teacher), to help make the cardboard boat regatta more academic (PE teacher, whom I paired with the physics teacher), to help with a project where students build electric guitars to study sound waves (physics teacher) and to add STEM to the student’s English unit that culminates in an intensive research paper on Van Gogh.

I have an office at the Junior High and an entire classroom at the High School (which is sort of backwards as the only class I teach – Computer Science in Science – is at the Junior High). I’m also helping both schools by researching potential science ‘textbooks’ as it’s new standards and textbook adoption year. I have a lot of autonomy – something lacking in most teachers’ work lives – which I enjoy.

I would like a little more structure – since it’s the first year of a new program we are feeling our way and I suspect sometimes going down blind alleys. It would be nice to have a professional development program for teachers – preferably something already developed and tested and established like Project Lead the Way but that decision hasn’t been made. So in the meantime I try to hunt up resources and connect potential collaborators and encourage teachers to think outside the box and give some control of learning over to students.  I’m starting with teachers who want to give it a try – more will come on board as they see us having some successes – and that number is keeping me hopping!

I’m also preparing for my trip to China as an International STEM Fellow. We leave a month from today! We had our first meeting as a group this past Saturday and found out that we would be teaching several classes of 45-50 students without a translator. The elementary teachers among the group were unfazed, “We’ll act it out, and use diagrams!” they proclaimed while the secondary teachers exchanged nervous glances. I’m rethinking my planned lesson and hoping Google translate is relatively accurate!

We will be in Hangzhou, China – the lovely city that just hosted the G-20 summit. One of the things I’ll be doing while there is taking a lot of photos and videotape both for myself but also for our social studies teachers to use in their Asia unit. To that end, because my only camera is on my cell phone, I’ve written a Donors Choose project to fund a decent digital single lens reflex camera: If it’s funded soon I’ll take it with me.

I gave a presentation on STEM to the Junior High teachers this morning and one of them sent me an email afterwards. It said, in part, “you did awesome this morning… this is a fantastic position for you!” It is. I feel much less stressed and more engaged. I’m learning something new every day – sometimes every hour of every day and am working closely with a lot of adults who appreciate what I’m doing for them. It’s a good fit.

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2 Responses to Somewhat undefined, but a good fit so far

  1. Anne Dwyer says:

    I’m guessing that the students at the junior high and high school level speak English very well. They will already have American names that many will use when they move to the US for school and jobs.

  2. Janet says:

    This is Janet, another single mom with kids from China. I adopted #2 and #3 about the same time you did #3 and #4.
    I am so very excited for you. Your job sounds “like you”!
    My son (now 13!) has autism (lots of development delays), is non-verbal (uses an iPad for communication), and is smart (but can’t express it). I would encourage you to think “inclusive”. While he isn’t near grade level academically, he would greatly benefit from being able to be a part of classes that use STEM. The “typical” students tend to be his biggest and best cheerleaders. They all learn from each other.
    I know it isn’t as easy as it might sound. Paula Kluth is my most favorite “inclusionist” – she is a believer that all kids should be included. She has a website, lots of books and resources.
    I look forward to continue to hear how your job continues to grow.

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