My school provides some professional development money every two years for summer travel. This summer I would like to take an educational trip to Italy to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum, Vesuvius, some Galileo astronomy sights, or others that would fit into my discipline areas (Earth science and physics). Can you help me find anyone in the NSTA community who might know of professional development trips in Italy or know of science educational tours in Italy for which I could use my grant?
—Scott, Dallas, Texas
It’s hard for schools to provide specialized content knowledge and experiences, so you have a great opportunity for your own individualized professional development (PD). I posed your question on NSTA’s Earth Science listserve:
- Larry suggests a day in Florence, visiting Leonardo da Vinci’s haunts and creations.
- Nathaniel sent a link to information on a 2013 PD trip to Italy sponsored by the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta.
- Len and Bob both note that Earthwatch does a great job in providing opportunities for educators. Based on their experiences, science education was a key part of their trips, with instructional videos and talks given by Earthwatch staff assigned to the project. The “volunteers” (the people signed up for a trip) worked each day alongside the permanent staff to meet the objectives of the particular study that had been undertaken. Earthwatch promotes the idea of communicating the progress back to students via a blog set up for the trip.
- Michael suggested two museums that might be of interest: the Museo Galileo in Florence and Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci” in Milan.
Another experienced educational traveler suggests contacting a university geology department or a geology professional organization to inquire about summer experiences. Even if they don’t have trips this summer, their previous itineraries may give you some suggestions for places to visit, they may have contacts in Italy, or they may know of other organizations that are sponsoring trips.
I also poked around the internet. Depending on how much exercise you want, check out the Sierra club outings. They have one this summer for hiking in the Dolomites, for example. A New York Times article has more ideas for Hiking Italy-Volcano to Volcano. And VolcanoTrek offers tours to Italian volcanoes. (—Please note, I don’t know anything about this company other than what’s on the website.)
Some additional thoughts on Scott’s question:
Many of our students have Individualized Education Plans to meet their needs. Perhaps its time for teachers to create IPDPs (Individualized Professional Development Plans) for themselves, particularly for content knowledge. Some districts already offer such an option for self-directed learning. Teachers set their own learning goals, design a learning strategy, document their activities, and describe how they will apply the new content knowledge. The plans require prior approval (especially if the district is awarding official PD hours) and usually teachers pay for the programs themselves but are then excused from some or all of the traditional inservice programs.
Scott describes what this looks like in his school:
Every year our parents’ association has events to raise money. They give a lot of that money to the school as part of our faculty grant program. People have been generous recently, and teachers are now eligible for $3000 every two years. The money can be used for anything that will improve our teaching. We submit an application that gets reviewed by the faculty grant evaluators (a revolving group of about six teachers) and if they agree that the plan will benefit the school and the students, they will approve it. It is much easier to get your plan approved if it is for schooling or part of an educational trip/tour (for example, the GSA Geoventures). It is possible to create your own itinerary explaining what and why you are going to do, but it is more difficult (but not impossible) to get approval. After the experience we have to write up a summary describing the experience and how we are going to use what we learned. The write-ups and descriptions are all kept in a binder so other teachers can read what their cohorts have done and get inspired to improve themselves too. It is a great program!