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.

Posted in 2nd Career, Job, school, science, STEM, teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

School is in session

We are all back in school now and settling into the routine that guides the larger part of our lives. It’s an old routine, but also new. New for me with my new position as a STEM Coach instead of a classroom teacher and new for the kids as they move up a grade to different teachers and classes (and in my son’s case to a new school – junior high). We are still struggling with getting to bed on time and up so early in the morning; sleeping in is an aspect of summer we all enjoy. It’s commonly in the high 80s and low 90s with dripping humidity which makes it even more pleasant to escape to the air conditioned schools!

Summer ended (the vacation, not the season) with an unexpected event. The weekend before I returned to school my oldest daughter had to have emergency surgery. She was volunteering at a camp for kids when she started having a sharp pain in her side. Ever the stoic, she ignored it for a day, taking ibuprofen and hoping it would get better. The camp didn’t have a nurse on staff so she finally texted me to come get her. We went straight to urgent care and after waiting there for 2 hours they sent us to the emergency room.


Where we waited some more until in the wee hours of Sunday morning, after blood tests and a CAT Scan, we were told she had acute appendicitis and needed surgery. Luckily she came through with flying colors and was released Monday. She then had a bit of a relapse due to an infection but fought that off and is on the mend.

My new job has gotten off to a slow start as the week before school started the assistant superintendent (who oversees the STEM program) resigned to take a new job! The new assistant superintendent is my old principal. These two men, while friends, have diametrically opposite ways of thinking and doing things. The first is a strategic, long-term planning sort, the latter a jump in and get it done fellow. Even so he hasn’t wanted to jump in on someone else’s planned path but to blaze his own. So we are backing up to go forward and if you have to do that it’s best done before you really get started!

I’m working in both the Junior High and High School and have a small office in the former and a large classroom in the latter. I’m teaching one class – computer science in science class- at the Junior High and consulting with teachers on ways they can bring collaborative, hands-on STEM projects into their classroom. For instance a social studies teacher who has a unit on Africa coming up wants to do a STEM project on drought. The 7th grade science teachers have a unit on soil so we are looking at some projects on what sorts of soil retain water. And the PE teacher at the high school does a cardboard boat regatta that’s hands on and lots of fun but wants to make it more academic so we’re getting with the physics teacher to add some math and physics to it.

I think this job will be a good fit. It’s very creative and requires a lot of research which is my forte. I’m enjoying teaching one class and the kids are very engaged. We have covered the basics of’s programming system (StarLogo Nova) and are about to program a computer model of an epidemic. I’m co-teaching so next year the science teacher can take over the class (and maybe I’ll co-teach something new). I have a lot more freedom (no more first lunch at 10:14 AM, or hall duty) and I’m feeling like I can breathe again. I’m hopeful that this year, and the STEM program will be a success.

Posted in 2nd Career, back to school, education, school, science, STEM | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Back to School

Wow. Where did the summer go? This afternoon I caught myself thinking that it was back to school next Wednesday and then I realized that I’m going in tomorrow to help with the chrome book distribution, and on Friday to finish moving things out of my classroom to my new space. Then Monday and Tuesday I have meetings relating to the STEM program. Wednesday is the first teacher day. So really summer is already over for me.

It was a short, busy, hot summer – and regular air conditioned days will certainly be one of the perks of going back to school. It really has been miserably hot here (as in much of the country) so very little got accomplished out of doors. The patio was not enlarged, nor was the porch reattached to the house. The driveway is still a muddy (when it rains) mess of dirt ruts. I skipped the garden this year except for some container plants on the patio table, strawberries that never really produced, cherry tomatoes, peppers and basil. Not exactly the self sustaining farmstead I had once pictured! I so admire our ancestors who not only did not have air conditioning and had to haul water, but did so in heavy, bulky dresses and petticoats. Needs must, I suppose.

The kids, who start school a week after I do, are also looking forward to returning to the cool school routine and seeing their friends. We were out of school but didn’t have a vacation per se aside from a few days of camping at the beginning of June (before it became too hot for such pleasures) with an old grad school buddy of mine and her daughter. Each year I think, this will be the year we take a family trip but it never happens.  I did get away – I went to a total of 10 days of teacher workshops – rocks and minerals, climate dynamics, reading, and computer science as well as attending online webinars and classes. I believe I logged enough professional development hours to fulfill the next two years of required training!

My new job, STEM Coach, is at this point not well defined due to the resignation of the assistant superintendent a week after I was hired. His replacement is my old boss/principal and since we are  pretty much at the very beginning of the program he prefers to back up to start over so he can be sure we’re headed in the direction he wants the program to go. I have a big ex-computer lab at the High School and a warning that some of the teachers will be resistant to any suggestions that they change their teaching methods and a small cubbyhole at the Junior High but more teachers on board with the idea of incorporating STEM.  I will also co-teach one class at the Junior High with the new 7th grade science teacher- computer science in science. Should be interesting since I’ll be only a step or two ahead of the students in this one! I am feeling a bit at loose ends in my new job but plan to start with research (one of my favorite things) and lots discussions with teachers of all subjects. I suspect it will be a bit slow going to begin with.

August will be a challenging month with the new position, kids returning to school and only one paycheck for the entire month. The weather will no doubt continue to be hot and humid as well. Once September rolls around we should be settled into the school routine and the days will hopefully be cooler.

Posted in back to school, heat wave, Job, new job, school | Tagged | 2 Comments