First off, w00t! I'm home in Ann Arbor till Sunday the 30th, and it is beyond good to be back. Second, I have just had one of the most phenomenal experiences of the past few years of my life and I want to share. I am referring to Learning Unlimited Teacher Camp 2013.
This year, ESP's reverse-parent organization, Learning Unlimited, chose to launch a weekend teaching workshop that they named Teacher Camp 2013. This past weekend, June 21-23, about 30 education enthusiasts (from various Splash programs around the country, but also real teachers in the area) came together in Chicago from across the country to share ideas and work together to gain perspectives and grow as teachers.
We were told that the workshop was going to be all about what each individual participant brought to the table: each person prepared a 10-minute talk and a 40-minute class/60-minute workshop, and each person was put in a group with which they prepared to lead a conversation about an education-related topic. We had talks, conversations, and classes/workshops from 9am to 5pm each day, and in the evenings we visited local education-oriented organizations, went on a scavenger hunt in Chicago, and had a cookout. I will say that I believe that no time was wasted - we actually spent almost every minute considering, discussing, and engaging education and related topics. I don't want this post to be horribly long, so here are some highlights:
Talks! We were told to give a 10-min. talk about something personal to us. I talked about how important I think multidisciplinary education is - that is, taking classes and studying fields wildly different from your own as a means of gaining valuable outside perspective. Other talks included:
- a lesson in patience, the importance of sports in education, and understanding different modes of thinking, in the context of tutoring a younger sibling
- the value of reflection in education, from a graduate of a Jesuit college
- why USA-Canada Math Camp is really awesome
- a talk about one person's experience challenging faith-based assumptions when teaching English in Egypt for a year
Then there were classes! I taught a class on structural testing with a spaghetti bridge activity. I also attended a number of awesome classes. We got to rank our class preferences on a coarse scale (like, neutral, dislike), and I made an effort to step outside the STEM bubble in my choices. Some of my favorites:
- an exploration Nietzsche's philosophy based on selected excerpts of his writings: we considered the nature and value of falsehood in the context of academic learning and "seeking truth", as well as Nietzsche's influence on modern thinking
- a workshop on how to teach STEM subjects in engaging ways, which helped me develop an activity that I am going to have my students do later this summer (I'm going to make them be parts of a clotting cascade to demonstrate signal transduction and what happens if you're missing a clotting factor)
- a workshop on meaningful discussions of questions without answers: what makes such discussions productive/unproductive? Do these questions all come down to fundamental Weltanschauungen? We considered ideas of individuals' chosen moral frameworks.
- really cool workshop on teaching math, with problems in computational geometry
- and a list of topics because I don't want any more bullets: urban planning & memory & mental mapping, spaces of memorial and the Cambodian genocide, and art history since the Rococo period
And finally, conversations. I was part of the following conversations:
- I co-led a conversation on the purpose of education and what all educated people should know. We were in agreement that education should teach students to sift through all of the data we are bombarded with on a daily basis. We also agreed that the question of what content people should have exposure to is an interesting one. We could not agree on what that meant.
- conversation on the role of technology in education (virtual classrooms, computer-based grading, MOOCs, etc). We all see MOOCs as very exciting but we're not yet sure where they're going - and probably everyone else does too.
- Conversation on the importance of getting problem-solving skills into the K12 classroom.
In addition to all of this mental stimulation, I also got to visit the 826CHI and Young Chicago Authors programs. I've been inspired to volunteer for 826BOSTON as soon as I have time, which unfortunately is not going to be until January at the earliest, but still.
Finally, here is a partial list of the takeaways I had from this experience:
- The term "problem-solving skills" is one that a lot of STEM majors take for granted. I learned that outside of STEM, "solving problems" has a different connotation - some educators have negative visceral reactions, along the lines of "giving students problems to solve (ie on a worksheet) is not a good way of engaging students or learning material".
- there are organizations in Chicago (and I'm sure in other places too) doing really valuable awesome work in education and outreach for underprivileged students.
- If STEM and HASS thinkers were on opposite sides of a large crevasse, bridging the gap requires more than an open mind. It's one thing to be open to the "other side", as it were. It's another to find away to get across.
- the most important thing I can be doing right now to grow as a teacher is to focus on how students' modes of thinking differ from mine.
Okay, that was a marathon post. But it was a lot of things that I wanted to say. I spent Monday in Chicago being a tourist, which included hanging out around the Bean, running around Navy Pier, and going to the beach. On Monday evening I met up with two of my friends who go to UChic and are working in Chicago this summer and we had dinner at a nice Italian place. The octopus was my favorite. Have a picture of the Bean: