The August 26 deadline for applying to the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy is almost here, but there’s still time. To highlight the benefits of being accepted into the program, former Academy Fellows share how the experience has had a positive impact on both their own practice and the achievement of their students. In this third and final blog post in the series, we highlight a conversation we had with Robyn Morrison Kronewitter, a science teacher from Santa Monica. Morrison Kronewitter was an Academy Fellow from 2012-13.
Q: What compelled you to apply to the New Science Teacher Academy?
A: I worked in the science field and had the opportunity work with an outside-of-school program where I could provide area school kids with “experiential, hands-on, messy, crazy science”. Then I became a credentialed science teacher and went to work for a brand-new charter school. I saw the opportunity to become a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow as a way to legitimize as well as promote our new program. I craved the chance to interact with scientists and other teachers to improve my content knowledge and to expand my experiential prowess. Also, the opportunity to attend NSTA’s National Conference—all expenses paid!—was such an enticing incentive.
Q: Can you describe the ways in which this professional development opportunity differed from others you’ve experienced?
- Numbers—the sheer number of participants and collaborators—all with the same focus as me. For example, I participated in a webinar with 200 other science teachers from all over the country. NSTA Academy staff really personalized the large group experience by promoting social interactions and by connecting Fellows within their spheres of interest and content.
- Support—the caliber of folks that provided support in all and every area was first-rate. Scientists and leaders presented cutting edge content; NSTA technology support made me feel more adept; and virtual connections with mentors, teachers, and Academy staff made each challenge a doable possibility.
- Duration—the longest PD I had attended before the Academy was a two-week-short course for science teaching methodology. Most PD offerings last only a day or two, and are focused in content and scope. The Academy provided content-rich opportunities in all disciplines of science (not just those in which I was most proficient or those directly required by my school or district); some were experiential, some collaborative, and some were “keepers” that I could add to my professional library and visit again and again.
- Conference—What an awesome experience! The New Science Teacher Academy, and my sponsor, Dow Chemical, provided the financial support that allowed me to attend. The added support from other Academy Fellows helped me to sort through and choose excellent PD experiences during those wild and hectic few days in San Antonio.
Q: How did you balance the demands of being a classroom teacher with your commitment to participating in this yearlong program?
A: Because I live in California, and the program was delivered from the East Coast, the time difference caused some tight situations, such as being able to be home in time to participate in a live webinar. Because the content from the webinars was so important and valuable, I’d circle them on my calendar, so I could log in and participate.
The Explorations were also invaluable, and were flexible enough that I didn’t really notice an impact to my regular schedule—but did see an impact to my teaching, my energy, and my ideas for projects from my participation. Through it all, the interaction and collaboration with other professionals made the experience one of value, not one of “busy work.”
Q: How has being an NSTA Fellow improved your practice?
A: I feel more connected to the myriad of resources that are available through NSTA (which are vast!). I feel more adept at fishing out the information that I need, rather than wading around trying to figure out where everything is and how to sort it.
The connections that I made with other teachers continue to improve my practice. Instead of working in relative isolation, I’ve continued to collaborate with other teachers from all over the United States. I become good friends with two other California science teachers. Each have very different experience and backgrounds, but they continue to inspire and challenge me.
Q: How have your students benefited from your participation?
A: I would research and plan within the supportive community of the Exploration, and then deliver my new ideas for projects, assessment, and student interactions to my middle and high school classes. I was truthful with my kids: I let them know that I was “trying” new ideas, and that I wanted their feedback. I think that they enjoyed the experience of helping their teacher learn; my high school students especially valued the opportunity to help lead the lesson and change the classroom status quo.
So many of my classroom ideas came directly from a webinar, an NSTA resource, or a discussion with an Academy participant. For example, the importance of science lab safety, highlighted in an NSTA webinar, helped me to convince our director to spend a little more on supplies that help keep our kids and teachers safer. A Virginia teacher, a former NSTA Fellow, and I are considered having our kids debate the issues of coal vs. nuclear power in a virtual discussion. A NASA video exploration of the solar system and the life of stars became invaluable in my classes’ investigations in astronomy. Being an NSTA Fellow gave me the confidence to implement a section on engineering taught through student inquiry, and by doing so, I enriched my practice and directly shifted my kids’ classroom experience.
Q: After serving as a Fellow, what do you think is the single biggest impact this had on your career as a science teacher?
A: For me, it was a culminating point: On the one hand, I personally felt enriched, supported, enlivened, and more connected to my practice, the classroom, and the educational community than ever before. I believe that it was in part due to my work in supporting other teachers in my school that I was nominated for Mentor of the Year in Santa Barbara county. (While I didn’t “win”, I was honored by eight of my colleagues and a county administrator for exceptional support and collaboration.)
Q: If given the chance, what would you say to science teachers who are considering this program?
A: Do it! Put your best foot forward and apply. Enjoy the year of collaboration and immerse yourself in the almost unlimited opportunities that will be presented to you. Make the time. Invite the effort. It’s totally worth it. Just do it!