By SVEA ANDERSON
Svea Anderson currently lives and teaches in Tucson, Arizona. Aside from teaching fourth grade, Svea enjoys spending time outside in the desert environment, hiking, bike riding, and playing disc golf. Her passion is teaching science and engaging students in inquiry-based education.
Recently on my morning commute across town from home to school, with the snow covered Catalina Mountains as the backdrop, I started thinking about gas prices. Random, I admit, but there are five gas stations on my route,and each one had a different price per gallon. This got me thinking. How are the gas stations like my daily life in the classroom? Some days, when I get the less expensive fuel, I can add more to the gas tank. When the gas is more expensive, I put in bare minimum. Why the fluctuation? So along my educational highway, where are places that educators can refuel and be invigorated? What can we do to increase the excitement, not only for the students, but for ourselves and our profession?
What is one way to refuel? Conferences. Yes, they can be ridiculously expensive and without the help of supportive districts, which I know is an abnormality these days, conferences can be hard to get to. I am lucky. My small district still believes in professional development and has a limited funding for such events.
The NSTA conference came to Phoenix in December. I wandered around the massive convention center for three days, a human sponge to all that there was offered. I was surrounded like thousands of others, who, like me, are enthusiastic about science. I sat, mesmerized during workshops and committed, in my brain, to attempt to teach the amazing science that was happening around me. I collected every handout offered, scooped up samples, and rolled as many free posters as I could carry. At night I perused the catalogs, wrote down notes on what was realistic and contacts I wanted to keep, as well as planned the next day’s workshops. I was refueled. I was enthusiastic about bringing this wealth of information back into my classroom. I had it all planned.
Until I got back to school on Monday. After two days of a guest teacher, my students had forgotten all the classroom rules and how to sit still for two minutes. My plan of telling the tales of my wondrous time at the conference was swapped with revisiting what a fourth grader looks like, and trying to figure out what they had done academically and what still needed to be completed to move on with the new weeks’ curriculum. Alas. It is the plight of the classroom teacher. Typically it is easier to go to school sick as a dog that write sub plans and deal with the aftermath of your absence.
Even though bringing every new idea I learned about it at the conference is a slow process, I have already started introducing my students to new ideas and concepts. While in Phoenix, I had met a fantastic teacher who is an Einstein Fellow this year in Washington, DC. He is a math teacher from Virginia who was hired by the National Science Foundation for eleven months through the fellowship. He told me about a colleague of his, another teacher who was also a fellow, and how she had been sent to Antarctica by the National Science Foundation. He mentioned that she was looking for classrooms to skype with while she was there. I was intrigued and emailed her immediately. We “met” via technology in December. She skyped us from the library at the South Pole Station. She was on a laptop and was able to show us the scenery through the windows. She explained to the students that the black dots on the horizon were seals, that the creature that just waddled by was an Adele penguin. She also mentioned to look closely at the large mountains across the bay. That was a volcano she told the kids. We skyped for almost an hour, the students enthralled at the idea of seeing a penguin through the window or that the teacher was delivered to the South Pole by a massive airplane on skis.
Once the skype session was wrapped up, the students had more questions for me. I had written a grant last year and had received an iPad and Apple TV, so it was easy to walk around the room and have the students type their questions. We googled what the Adele penguins looked like (super cute), what the temperature at the South Pole station was, and how there could be a volcano in Antarctica. Aren’t volcanoes hot? Isn’t Antarctica cold? It was one of those magical “AH-HA” moments for my students.
And it was an “AH-HA” moment for me as well. I realized that all the handouts I had picked up, all the posters I had rolled and lugged around, all the big ideas I had written down in my notebook are all great resources, and there is plenty of time to implement the information I gleaned from the conference, but in actually, I need to refuel in the moment of life experiences. Really, conferences are amazing, but refueling can also happen closer to home. Local resources, asking community experts, the local retired meteorologist, professors from the local university or community college, firefighters, police officers, even bug exterminators, are all free resources that bring the community into the classroom.
Sometimes it is easier to teach the same lesson, to have the same routine. There are so many new initiatives, standards, and demands from every which direction that sometimes it seems like the only thing that a teacher has control of is their own little classroom space. This is where the burn out happens. I truly believe that my fuel for
education and teaching comes from the fact that I can't teach the same lesson the same way twice. This love of learning is what makes me a lifetime student, and there is always something new to be learned.
I drove by the same five gas stations on my reverse commute. A few had changed their prices, but most stayed the same. I thought back to my classroom on that chilly day in December when my “A-HA” happened. My teaching fuel changed that day and I was recharged once again.
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