Teresa Zimmer Cherokee Elementary School

Guntersville City School System

With Steve Spangler, drenched in Coca-Cola after 170 teachers set off geyers in unison.

Brief Description of Fellowship: Participate in “Science in the Rockies,” a hands-on science workshop to learn inquirybased activities that promote students' science exploration and strengthen critical thinking skills.

“Science in the Rockies” is a 3-day immersion in science in Denver, Colorado, from July 6-8. I will arrive in Denver on July 5 and leave on July 9. The Steve Spangler Science in the Rockies workshop is a unique professional development opportunity. The workshop focuses on best practices for student engagement as the participant uses inquiry-based science to explore popular STEM challenges. This is not a sit-and-watch teacher training; this is a get-up-and-do handson learning experience featuring over 75 engaging activities that I can take home and immediately share with my students. As a Science in the Rockies participant, I will actually do the activities with Steve Spangler and the other instructors. I will learn the science behind the fun while practicing how to present the science activities in my classroom. Most importantly, I will learn how to use Steve Spangler’s unique strategies for turning ordinary activities into practical experiences that teach solid science. The goal of Science in the Rockies is to show educators how to use proven best practices and teaching strategies to make science more exciting, more engaging, more interactive, and more meaningful in their classroom. Over the course of 3 days, I will participate in 75 demonstrations and hands-on activities that encourage students to “play with a purpose.” I will learn how to help children pursue the “why” factor, and how to encourage them to wonder, discover, and explore. Strategies will be shared on how to connect science to popular children’s literature which reinforces fundamental building blocks of the science curriculum. All the activities are aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. There is time built in to share ideas and network with 170 other teachers and learn from each other’s experiences. The workshop focuses on ways to bring wonder, discovery, and exploration into the classroom. I will leave not only with the knowledge of how to conduct over 75 engaging science experiments, but also with the experience of presenting and teaching the concepts. I will come home with $400 worth of gizmos, gadgets, hands-on learning materials, hard-to-find supplies, and cool resources along with a 250-page training manual that details every aspect of the learning experience, from the detailed instructions and recipes to the in-depth explanations and real-world applications. I can begin to change science teaching in my classroom immediately.

Career Impact:
While I have dedicated my teaching career to working with gifted students, I have not become an "expert" in any specific curriculum area. My expertise is in the nature and needs of gifted students. I teach English, but I am not an "English" teacher. I teach math, but I am not a "math" teacher. I teach science, but I am not a "science" teacher. Yet science is an area that I have always been fascinated with, but many of the experiments I want to share with my students seem daunting because I am not a "science" teacher. This hands-on workshop took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to become a "science" teacher.

It's hard to fool gifted students. This workshop was vital as I worked with 170 teachers from around the world actually doing experiments to give me a much better understanding of the concepts behind the fun activities. Being able to have all the materials right at my fingertips to conduct over 75 experiments and share successes and failures with newly-met colleagues helped me gain a confidence I have not known in 27 years of teaching. Working alongside the science guru, Steve Spangler, who has shared his knowledge and enthusiasm for science over 17 times on the "Ellen" show, was truly inspiring.

I see my teaching evolving as I am ready to undertake more risks in planning lessons that intimidated me in the past. My students love hands-on science, and now what we do in class will be a learning experience for science concepts and not just a "neat" experiment that brings "oohs" and "aahs." I now feel better prepared to develop inquiry-based activities that promote explorations and strengthen critical thinking skills. I can now turn ordinary activities into practical experiences that teach solid science. I am now a "science" teacher.

I knew from reviews that this workshop would be fun. What I did not know was how much the energy, excitement, and fellowship would snowball into a truly exhilarating experience. From having my body "vacuumed packed" in a plastic bag to simulate the feeling of pressure in the deep ocean, to actually walking across 8 feet of broken glass without a scratch, to having a spud-launcher fight with 170 teachers in the hotel parking lot, the workshop was non-stop laughs and amazement. Our final activity was our entire group setting off 170 Coke-Mentos geyers in unison! This was videoed for a Denver newscast, and as our rain ponchos dripped with Coke our faces told the real story of our time with Steve Spangler.
Classroom/Community Impact:
Schools strive to meet the needs of all students, but unfortunately, sometimes our gifted students are left out. The old adage of "gifted kids are smart, they will do just fine on their own," perpetuates the myth that gifted students do not require anything extra in order for them to reach their potential. In reality, these students do need something different, or they face the risk of underachievement, the stereotype of class clown, or the impending wall of becoming a drop-out. This workshop will help me motivate and engage my students in a new way. With an emphasis on hands-on learning in a non-verbal environment, my gifted students will take more ownership of their learning from a heads and hands perspective - so needed in their development. Modern brain research shows how intricately linked the head and hands are to long-lasting learning. The manual manipulation in the activities from this workshop will lead to more meaningful experiences. 

While I am already planning more engaging science lessons for my students, my goal is to culminate the school year with a "Science Show" for the entire school, where my students will duplicate some of the activities we have done, as well as move out of their comfort zones to develop new experiments. Going beyond the normal science fair, this will be a time for students to showcase their new excitement and knowledge of science by demonstrating to their peers, teachers, and parents the wonders of this discipline. They will engage the whole school, with students becoming the "teacher" and role models for others. It is difficult to stifle the excitement of gifted students, and this activity will give them newfound confidence as they share, explain, demonstrate, and teach their peers that learning can be fun. The fellowship will then come full circle, with my students seeing me as a lifelong learner and sharing my newly gained confidence, to my students becoming the teacher, developing leadership skills as they present before an audience.

I am also looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow teachers to help shift the way science is viewed in our school. With an emphasis on math and language arts, science tends to take a backseat. Now students will learn science for science's sake, yet understand its connections to other disciplines. 

Open Response:
My classroom will never be the same. Many teachers, after 27 years in the classroom, are ready to pack up the school supplies and not worry about lesson plans or grades anymore. While I continue to enjoy my time with my students, this opportunity has given me a renewed enthusiasm to be an active teacher. This was not the usual teacher workshop - the hands-on atmosphere created sparks that cannot be extinguished, and I came home with over $400 worth of materials so that I could start immediately changing students' viewpoints of science. Many times, professional development for teachers consists of isolated workshops or conferences, without follow-up support or even the materials needed to implement what was learned at the professional development. However, this experience was different. I spent three days with 170 other teachers from around the world who really wanted to be there, willingly giving up a portion of our summer time, to learn how to better inspire students with science. The materials needed to conduct over 75 experiments was given to us as part of the registration fee so that there would be no obstacle in preventing us from immediately making a difference in our students' learning. It wasn't just a sit-and-watch atmosphere - we actually conducted all the experiments ourselves so the benefit of the workshop would be immediate. 

This fellowship is helping me achieve my goal of ensuring that students will gain an understanding of concepts that have real-world impact. By sharing my own personal growth with my students, I will be a role model who will encourage them to also be life-long learners. I have used several Steve Spangler kits in my classroom previously, and knew even before I attended that my students would be thrilled with my new-found confidence in conducting science lessons. When they first learned that I would be attending this workshop and knew that I would actually meet "the" Steve Spangler, they begged me to take them with me! That type of excitement about learning should not ever be extinguished, and I will now be better able to ensure that my students experience the introduction of new science concepts with an unwavering anticipation of the thrill of learning. 
My classroom will never be the same! This was an experience that was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time, and I am now much more confident in my ability to teach science concepts and not just share "fun" experiments.
Last modified: Friday, February 10, 2017, 10:28 AM