Maine CTE: It’s Not Your Parents’ Vocational Education

Students at the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology in Biddeford, Maine are excited about learning — and they’re eager to tell you why.  They can also show you some pretty impressive proof that they’ve mastered the concepts they’ve studied.

Take, for example, the house they built as the capstone of one project.

Programs at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

A selection of CTE programs offered at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

“It’s not just about wiring a house, it’s about the theory and science [of] what is actually happening in the wires. In my other classes, you don’t really get hands-on, you just do what’s in the book,” a senior at the Center recently explained to visitors from the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of my role as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) is to help teachers and other educators around the country learn about the Department’s efforts to support world-class teaching and learning. But, it’s just as important for us to bring teacher, principal, and student perspectives back to policymakers in Washington. For both those reasons, I traveled to Biddeford.

Right now, there’s an important shift taking place in schools and districts across the United States: a shift away from vocational education, and toward career and technical education, or CTE. The narrow vocational training of our parents’ and grandparents’ day was often separated from the college preparatory curriculum, and geared to the needs of the industrial age. Today’s CTE programs are designed to meet the needs and opportunities of the global economy and the digital age, and prepare students for equal success in college and careers.

When change is this ambitious, it can take a while for old perceptions to catch up to new realities. CTE teachers and students in CTE courses often find themselves having to correct the belief that CTE courses are less rigorous than traditional “college prep” classes. The experiences of the students and teachers at Biddeford certainly debunked this myth.

Biddeford offers professionally certified programs in career fields like legal studies, architecture, early childhood education, and health sciences. The students told us they feel good about learning a combination of academic, technical and employability skills that will equip them for success in college and in the 21st century’s technology-rich, team-based, results-oriented professions.

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Ask Arne: Talking Teacher Prep

Teacher prep needs to be better in this country. An overwhelming share of teachers don’t feel prepared to be an effective teacher on day one— and, as a member of the New York City Teaching Fellows in 2003, I was one of them.

However, a great teacher prep program also saved my career. Five years after my painful trial-by-fire initiation into teaching, I earned a degree in teaching through a traditional M.A. program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and that experience— anchored in rich, lengthy student-teaching experiences under the tutelage of great mentors— set me up for success in the classroom.

In the video interview embedded below, I asked Sec. Duncan about his views on teacher prep—a topic that has suddenly become a lot hotter with the recent release of an incendiary report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit organization.

Is teacher prep a major headline issue for Secretary Duncan? (Spoiler alert: Yes.) What does he see as exemplars in the traditional and alternative models? How can we attract, support, and retain people who will become excellent teachers? Check it out.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

More information on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program can be found here: http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts/public-service

Your comments and questions for future segments of #AskArne are most welcome. Feel free to add them in the comments section here, on Facebook, or on Twitter at #AskArne.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Duncan Discusses Influence of Teacher Voice on New Flexibility Decision

Today, Secretary Duncan announced that ED is offering states flexibility around high stakes personnel decisions and double testing—a decision greatly influenced by educators’ voices.

His decision addresses two areas. First, states will be able to ask for an extra year beyond current plans for teacher evaluation systems before data from new assessments impacts personnel decisions for educators.

Second, during next school year (2013-2014), some schools will field test new assessments. ED will work with states to avoid double-testing students. Over-testing is a very real concern, and schools participating in the field test will receive the option to administer only one assessment in 2013-2014 to any given student— either the current statewide assessment or the field test.

Dan Brown, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF), interviewed Secretary Duncan on his decision.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan’s decision doesn’t come out of the blue. In fact, it was significantly influenced by discussions with teachers around the country. As full-time TAFs, teachers on temporary release from our schools to bring teacher perspective to federal policy-makers, we were literally at the table— and consistently asked to provide educator voice to the high level discussions being held.

In the interest of hearing and elevating teachers’ voices, the 12 members of our TAF team (six full-time Fellows and six part-time Classroom Fellows) traveled to 34 states over the past year and held discussions with well over 4,000 teachers. Teachers, who are the actual implementers for these reforms, are uniquely positioned to offer candid, authentic advice about how to make these urgently needed reforms work best for students.

As Arne describes in the video, we heard from teachers over and over about the unprecedented level of change and reform going on throughout the country as states transition to new standards, new assessments, and new teacher evaluation systems.

Overwhelmingly, we heard support from teachers around the country for raising standards that will ensure students can compete in the global economy. At the same time however, we also heard widespread concern that teachers need time, models, and quality professional development to teach to the new standards effectively. In states where there is a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers feel more empowered, supported, and positive about the current state of reform efforts.

From our vantage point, we believe that the Department and Secretary Duncan are committed to learning from educators. This offer of flexibility reflects the Department’s responsiveness to teachers’ voices. Whether states request the flexibility or not, we hope that we all hear the needs expressed by teachers across the country to make this significant transition sustainably, with room and support for innovation and cycles of professional learning.

Cynthia Apalinski, Jennifer Bado-Aleman, Dan Brown, Kareen Borders, Lisa Clarke, and Marciano Gutierrez are the 2012-2013 Full-Time Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education.

Students Fly High at Aviation High School

Duncan and students at Aviation HS

Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan with Aviation High School students.

As a former middle school math teacher, at the end of every academic year, I worried about what would happen to my students when they entered high school. I often wished they had different options, including more career and technical education (CTE) schools that would prepare them for the demands of a high-tech economy.

Last week, I participated in a roundtable discussion at Aviation High School in Long Island City, N.Y., where Secretary Arne Duncan spoke with students about their experiences. This school is an example of a CTE school I would have loved to see my students attend.

With a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Aviation High School prepares students for careers in aviation maintenance and the aerospace industry. In addition to traditional classrooms, the school has 17 real aircraft where students practice repairing planes.

Secretary Duncan highlighted this school as a compelling example of what the Obama administration is trying to replicate through the High School Redesign initiative proposal. This new, competitive grant program would encourage school districts to rethink the traditional high school model and focus on providing rigorous real-world experiences to students that will put them on a path for success in both college and careers.

Through grants to local educational agencies in partnership with colleges, universities, and other organizations—such as nonprofits and community-based groups—the High School Redesign initiative will challenge schools to personalize learning. Redesigned high schools will customize content and instructional practices so that students not only master challenging academic concepts and skills, but also pursue their individual interests.

Further, these schools will align teaching and learning so that all students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit and career-related experiences and skills.

Today’s high-tech, knowledge economy requires that our schools connect learning to what students will be required to do in college and careers.

Located close to two New York airports, Aviation High School has strong partnerships with local businesses, such as JetBlue, that provide internships and mentoring for students.  As one student said, “What we learn here, we apply it in real world situations.”

During the roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan, Aviation High School students discussed how hands-on experiences through internships and other job-related experiences help them to perform well in traditional academic subjects like physics and math.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew further emphasized this point, “We know students in this program outperform on academics because they are engaged in the learning process.”

Many students talked about the pride and accomplishment they felt as a result of their work at the school.  One said, “When you actually work on a plane and watch it take off, that’s a good feeling.”

Students also emphasized how teachers and mentors challenged them and prepared them with skills they planned to use after graduation as they pursue college or aviation careers.

When asked how high schools in the nation could provide similar experiences for other students, one student replied, “You have to start that fire. Get that spark. Make them determined to be successful.” Aviation High School is a powerful model that is clearly sparking so many of its students to succeed.

For more information about the High School Redesign initiative, please see here.

Nicora Placa is a full-time Ph.D student at NYU researching teaching and learning mathematics, and a 2008 Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

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Announcing the Principal Ambassador Fellowship

The Department of Education is proud to announce that the first-ever Principal Ambassador Fellowship has officially launched!

The Principal Ambassador Fellowship has been modeled after the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship that the Department has offered since 2008. Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the program to the public at a National Association of Secondary School Principals conference on February 28 this year.  The Secretary noted that after Department staff spent a day shadowing principals across the DC area, one of the participants highlighted the lack of principals’ voices in dialogues surrounding education policy. The PAF program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instructional leadership, the school environment, and talent management.

Like the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows, Principal Ambassador Fellows will spend a year gaining greater knowledge of the content of key federal programs and policies, in addition to the context and process by which they are designed and implemented. Fellows will share their expertise with federal staff members; provide outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the Department; and facilitate the involvement and understanding of educators in developing and implementing these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success.

The U.S. Department of Education believes that principals should have meaningful opportunities to both contribute to and understand the policies that impact their students, faculty and staff, and school communities. In order to implement needed reforms, all stakeholders, especially principals, must understand the intent of policy and be engaged in the outcomes.

As the Principal Ambassador Fellowship is just getting underway, ED is only considering Campus Principal Ambassador Fellows for 2013-2014. The Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship enables principals to participate on a part-time basis from their home locations for the Department, in addition to their regular school responsibilities, working in collaboration with the Department’s Regional and Federal Offices.

We recognize that the two programs, the Principal Ambassador Fellowship and Teacher Ambassador Fellowship, will need to differ because of the different nature and responsibilities associated with each job. The first class of Fellows will therefore also be tasked with helping us design and shape the program for future years to be more beneficial for the role of principals.

We invite principals to apply for the 2013-2014 school year by July 16, 2013 at 11:59 PM EDT. To access the application and view eligibility requirements, please visit www.usajobs.gov and apply for the Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship.

We hope you consider applying, and encourage you to share this information with your colleagues! You can also sign up to receive further updates, and call 1-800-USA-LEARN or email us at PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Note:  Some schools may use different terminology than “principal.” A candidate is considered eligible despite titling differences, provided that s/he is the highest administrative official in the school building.

Joshua Klaris is the  2013- 2014 Resident Principal at the U.S. Department of Education

College and Career-Ready Conversations in South Seattle

“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge: to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”  

- President Barack Obama, February 12. 2013

State Superintendent for Washington

State Superintendent for Washington, Randy Dorn speaks with teachers and staff members from the Department of Education

When President Obama spoke those words in this year’s State of the Union address, I felt like cheering.  As a science teacher, it’s my job to help students fall in love with learning and explore important questions about how the world works.  I also know the principles and problem-solving skills they’re mastering will help them succeed in today’s competitive global economy, where science, technology, engineering and math (or “STEM”) careers are on the rise.  And, through fellowships with the U.S. Department of Education, I’ve been paying even closer attention to how the Obama Administration’s proposals affect my work.

The President’s High School Redesign plan would invest in programs that re-invigorate the American high school experience for the 21st century.  Strengthening Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and collaborating more closely with postsecondary, business and community partners are two ways that high schools can re-think their current model. I recently had an opportunity to visit a school that’s using both of these strategies when I accompanied Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, on a trip to Cleveland High School in Seattle, Wash.

As teachers and school leaders across the country think about implementing the President’s plan, there’s a lot we can learn from schools that have already started down this path.  Cleveland High School was restructured as a STEM-themed school four years ago, and according to the principal, Princess Shareef, “There was no template set for us.” Instead, school leaders and staff had the freedom to innovate, meeting every week and including parents, employers and other partners in designing a new approach. The result?  A high school in South Seattle that provides a college-and-career-ready curriculum through project-based learning, and connects students with mentors from the surrounding community.

TAF post 2

Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education speaks with State Superintendent of Washington, Randy Dorn

During classroom walk-throughs, we spent time in a computer engineering class and talked with students engaged in a reverse-engineering assignment.  In this hands-on design project, students choose an everyday object like a toy car or a mechanical pencil, measure the object using calibration tools, design and draw blueprints, transform the blueprints into multi-view drawings, and create a mock assembly. The students we met clearly understand and excel in their subject.  They’re also confident that what they’re learning will empower them in the future.

One student said, “It’s really nice to have experience with the computer-aided design, and this will help with job preparedness. Most [engineering] jobs are looking for experience in graphic design.” Another added, “I’m learning how to solve problems and to communicate with my team every day. This is important for my career in the future.”

These students realize that, in today’s marketplace, they need even more technical skills and experience. The days of working in isolation are over: problem-solving and teamwork skills are essential for success in the 21st century.  At Cleveland High School, students learn to be effective collaborators through project-based learning.

As one student explained, “We get graded on work as a team. Communication is important and there are instances when the group doesn’t function and so you have to learn how to communicate in a better way. You also learn how to speak for yourself and develop a voice.”  A business leader at the table drew an appreciative laugh from the group by noting, “Yes, just like in the real world.”

Equipped with a full range of academic, technical and employability skills, students at Cleveland High School will be ready for the demands of the world that awaits them after graduation.  That’s good news for them and for the employers in their region.  It’s also great news for the country.

As Dean of Students Catherine Brown told the assembled students, employers and civic leaders that, by coming together to re-engineer Cleveland High School, “You’re not just thinking of your industry—you’re thinking about the common good of society.”  By focusing on relevant, real-world skills; by making STEM-themed learning, wrap-around services and broad-based partnerships a vital part of each school day; and by graduating college-and-career-ready students, this re-engineered high school is preparing the next generation of U.S. leaders in some of tomorrow’s most exciting professions.

Dr. Kareen Borders is a Regional Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

Ask Arne: Elevating the Teaching Profession

As a teacher, I have an axe to grind with how teachers are perceived by many folks outside the education system. Too often we are caricatured as either saviors or deadbeats, and both outsized images impoverish the discourse on how to improve education for all students.

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education— a teacher on release from my school for a year to help bring educator voice to the policy world— I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Secretary Duncan to pick his brain on perceptions of teachers and how he thinks we can improve them.

His answers, seen in the video below, touch in part on the recently released RESPECT Blueprint, a framework for elevating the teaching profession, developed over the past two years through discussions with thousands of educators.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Your comments and questions for future segments of #AskArne are most welcome. Feel free to add them in the comments section here, on Facebook, or on Twitter at #AskArne.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C

Finally a Touch of RESPECT

Teachers in this great country have long yearned for the opportunity to shape their own profession. Our forces have, as of late, been too often divided and unable to conquer. Now, for the first time in recent memory . . . a movement has emerged that offers precisely what is needed—teacher voice.

As a committed elementary PE teacher and concerned parent of school-aged children, a three-time National Board Certified Teacher, and a 2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education, my involvement with this movement has become a near obsession.

RESPECT LOGOThis week, the Obama Administration released the Blueprint for RESPECT, a plan for transforming teaching and leading. Specifically, it includes information about the process used to craft the vision, the research reviewed, and about a description of specific policies and programs that the Department intends to use to support educators. It also includes President Obama’s budget request for $5 billion to support RESPECT. Now that the RESPECT Blueprint is being released, there is much for teachers to be excited about.

For one, teachers love the possibility that they may be paid what they are worth. Despite public perceptions that teaching is a cushy job with summers off, I can personally assure you that the “many-teachers-work-two-jobs” rhetoric is grounded in reality. Another exciting improvement that RESPECT addresses is establishing career ladders that allow people to stay in the classroom without necessarily migrating to an administrative office. Perhaps now that ambitious teacher down the hall who’s been inspiring kids for years can be given the hybrid leadership role that allows her classroom gifts to remain on display while aspirations toward advancement are simultaneously satisfied. Some forward-thinking school districts are already doing this. Why doesn’t everyone?

As a physical education instructor, I can tell you that bringing teacher preparation programs into focus is equally as exciting. For too long the ranks of my coworkers have been populated with professional coaches looking for something to do in between games and practices. A serious effort toward cleaning up teacher prep programs, as discussed in the Blueprint for RESPECT, could mean more disciples of “The New PE” with roots in Naperville, Ill. And maybe more schools like Red Hawk Elementary, in Erie, Colo., would pop up, where movement has been seamlessly woven into the very fabric of this high-achieving school.

But perhaps more significant than all of these factors, the creation of the Blueprint for RESPECT has shown that teacher voice can and should be given a seat at the table.

As the document states–and to which I can personally attest–this entire project has come from engaging over 5,700 educators in 360 different discussions across the country. My own experiences vary as widely as a small roundtable in a humid Richmond high school library, to facilitating a conversation with a couple of hundred representatives from National Blue Ribbon Schools.

This document has taken on many forms prior to its most current status. It has been rewritten, revamped, retooled and refashioned, with each new iteration grounded heavily in teacher sentiment.

It is still unknown whether Congress will fund RESPECT, or even some part of it, but the fact that this movement, led by teachers, has made its way to the Oval Office, underscores the fact that much like doctors, lawyers, architects and other highly respected professionals, we teachers have been given a chance to help shape our own profession. Let’s seize it!

Visit www.ed.gov/teaching for more information on RESPECT.

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

Early Learning: A Helpful Head Start

As I listened to the group of students across the table, I wondered about how they did it? How did these students- from the south side of Chicago- overcome the obstacles that continually stand in the way for many of our kids who are all too often on the wrong side of the achievement gap? What happened that helped these kids academically achieve and change the trajectory of their lives? Wanting to hear more about their past, but not wanting to invade their privacy, I asked, “How many of you will be among the first in your family to go to college?” Five students raised their hands. I followed up, “How many of you went to preschool or Head Start?” All five hands remained in the air.

Reams of data point to the positive impact of early education on the lives of students who hail from tenuous circumstances, and the Chicago Longitudinal Study shows that every dollar invested in early education has a substantial return on investment. The data is important, but what is more important is the very real impact that early education has had on the lives of some of our most vulnerable students, including those kids from Chicago.

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Students from Chicago’s Hubbard High School meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan after the students’ briefed Department staff on issues facing their community.

I am keenly aware of the difference that early education can make in a child’s life, because it made a world of difference in my own. As the son of a father who dropped out of the eighth grade in Oaxaca, Mexico, and of a mother who could only read at the 3rd grade level, I did not have the best odds at achieving academic success.

Other than an old family King James Bible, there were no books in my house. There were no puzzles, or activities to teach shapes, colors, or numbers. I, like many students in neighborhoods similar to my own, was at a disadvantaged starting place in the game of life. I, however, was fortunate in that I was enrolled in Head Start, an early education program that aims to improve education, health, nutrition and parent involvement for low-income children and their families. In Head Start, I was taught the foundations which better prepared me for the start of my educational journey. As opposed to entering kindergarten behind, I went in with knowledge and competencies that allowed me to participate in class and feel confident in my abilities. The Head Start program helped me have a fair shot at learning, and ultimately a fair shot at life.

As a teacher of high school students who have been removed from other institutions and who have been identified as potential dropouts, I often wonder about the educational journey of my kids. The vast majority of my students come to class with significant academic deficiencies. My school has been identified as a model for helping these students overcome barriers to academic success, but does so with a significant amount of resources to help these students with academic, physical, mental, and emotional issues. Being familiar with their backgrounds, I know that most of my kids started off far behind many of their peers at the traditional school sites. I cannot help but wonder what would have been if my students had been part of a quality, early education program that perhaps could have given them the head start they needed.

As we transition to more rigorous standards and assessments, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Achievement of these standards will help our kids compete in the flat world, but if we do not make a concerted effort to help all kids start out with the same basic competencies through high-caliber, early education programs, we may perpetuate the achievement gap we seek to eliminate. The five students that I met from Chicago transcended the achievement gap and overcame challenges, due to the support of family, teachers, strong-willed determination, and quite possibly, the impact of early education.

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, Calif.

A Student’s Voice on Career and Technical Education

Flameworking. Robot building. Custom painting. High school.

These seemingly disparate ideas fit together seamlessly for 18-year-old Taylor Clow, a thriving senior I met recently at New Jersey’s Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT). The Teaching Ambassador Fellows— teachers working for a year to bring educators’ perspectives to the U.S. Department of Education— have been traveling the country to meet with teachers, students, and other stakeholders to hear more about what’s working in their schools and what’s challenging them.

Taylor Clow and Dan Brown

Dan Brown and Taylor Clow. Photo courtesy of Judy Savage.

Taylor’s passion for the opportunities generated through the GCIT community was inspired, and it underscored the dramatic need for more high-functioning career and technical education (CTE) schools throughout the country. His hands-on successes are examples of what President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address when he announced a challenge: “to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy… schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

After my visit to GCIT, Taylor emailed me with more about why his experience at GCIT was so valuable. Here is his student perspective on CTE:

My experiences here at GCIT have been such an adventure, full of opportunities that I embraced. Freshman year, I began it all in the Collision Repair Technology program, a part of the School of Transportation Technology. I also joined the “FIRST Robotics” team, and that was the best decision I have ever made. With the primary guidance and support of my science teacher, Rowan University, and the parents serving as mentors to the Robotics Club, we had an amazing, inspiring rookie year, full of busy nights and weekend build sessions. I learned mechanical design, construction, CAD and fabrication of parts in the Rowan machine shop. I LOVED this!

I was the captain of the robotics team for three years; what started out as a club has provided me with the goal and direction for my future to study at Rochester Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer. I have been offered a summer job with one of our mentors.

As a result of my passion and enthusiasm for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics], my science teacher and my guidance counselor nominated me for the High School Scholars Program at Rowan University Engineering Clinic, and I was selected to participate.  The workshops and lectures were so exciting to be a part of, and I was paid. The networking with Science Teachers, Engineers and students from all over the region all interested in promoting STEM was actually a building block for me to get involved in many other interests.

Through my study, I became very interested in doing custom painting with airbrush on vehicles. During my sophomore and junior years I became involved with GCIT’s fabulous SkillsUSA program, which provided opportunities for me to compete in the State of New Jersey’s Custom Painting competition. Both years I competed, I won a gold medal and received tools, a large toolbox, and an experience of a lifetime. I also won two $20,000 scholarships. During my senior year, I served as a mentor to younger students.

Because of the accelerated academic program at GCIT, I had earned enough credits to graduate early second semester. I used this opening to apply for a flameworking class at Salem Community College, and I was thrilled when I was accepted. Because of the GCIT administration’s help with this arrangement, I have had an incredible opportunity studying flameworking with glass guru Paul Stankard, one of the most renowned glass artists in the country.

When senior year came along I applied to three colleges: Michigan Technological Institute, Ferris State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. I was accepted into the mechanical engineering department of all three schools. I have also been accepted into the Scientific Glass Technology program at Salem Community College.

I attribute my success to the guidance and leadership of my teachers, and to my guidance department for their support. My SAT scores were not that exceptional, but I impressed my teachers enough to believe in my hands-on abilities and skills to write amazing letters of recommendations for me.

Sincerely,

Taylor Clow

Here’s a blog post about the school visit by Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. Also check out Taylor’s website featuring some of his work at taylorclow.yolasite.com

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-2013 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Math and Science the Right Way

“That’s it! I’m digging in!”

With that, a third grader at Griggs Elementary in Mobile, Ala., pulled on his surgical glove to examine an owl pellet for rodent bones.

Engaging explorations in STEM content are daily occurrences for the young mathematicians and scientists-in-training at Griggs and other schools throughout the state of Alabama. Here, students benefit from rigorous, hands on, investigative science and math instruction provided through a partnership with the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, or AMSTI. This state-funded initiative partners with K-12 schools to ramp up the integration of STEM education at the elementary school level.

Students Dissect Owl Pellets

Students at Griggs Elementary in Mobile, Ala., examine an owl pellet for rodent bones.

On the day we visited schools in Alabama, while one class at Griggs examined owl pellets, another room of students focused on the importance of fractions in math by examining strategies for dividing a paper “brownie” square into equal parts. In a classroom at J. Larry Newton Elementary School in Fairhope, students discussed the importance of measurement precision as they performed chemical tests on household substances like baking soda and flour.

Outfitted in goggles and gloves, the students owned the roles they took on in class and told us about their futures. “I love math” and “I’m going to be a scientist” were common statements among these young children.

What was so remarkable was that throughout these classrooms, the students conducted much of their own learning and challenged each other with questions. The teachers were the facilitators, not lecturers, who nurtured and compelled their students to be risk takers, critical thinkers, and data analysts. Students were encouraged to be curious and that curiosity was used as the natural foundation for the lessons. Said one teacher, “I used to be one of those lecturers, but now…I see my students’ excitement, and I’m excited to facilitate.”

These partnerships illustrate effective math and science instruction, accomplished through authentic experiences that allow students to take the lead in discovery and learning. Across grade levels, these elementary school students are engaging in scientific and mathematical discourse, defending their hypotheses, explaining their thinking, and examining their strategies.

Schools across the country could benefit from such educational experiences and instructional practices. As the Teaching Ambassador Fellows continue to conduct outreach with educators in schools across the nation, we’ve seen pockets of best practices like these in Alabama. But if our country is going to meet the President’s goals and the needs of the economy, this type of system-wide partnership and STEM instruction must become more of the norm. Early exposure to and experience with STEM is critical to fostering future STEM professionals. Given the national priority and importance of early childhood education, we must also start thinking about how to begin such exploration early, even in pre-school and kindergarten.

In Alabama, math and science is being done the right way. Let’s learn from this example and build more.

Jennifer Bado-Aleman is an English teacher on loan from her school in Gaithersburg, Md., and Patrice Dawkins-Jackson is the Gifted Instructional Support teacher at the Dunwoody Springs Elementary in the Greater Atlanta area. Both are serving as 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the Department.

Third International Summit on the Teaching Profession: Sitting at OUR Table

International Summit Logo

This time of year I typically dream of travelling someplace warm, but today I woke up wishing I were in Amsterdam.

As a Social Studies teacher, I would appreciate the opportunity to dive into the city’s rich history. Today I want to be there to participate in the third International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

Education leaders from around the world, including 150 teachers, are at the 2013 Summit to discuss teacher quality and evaluation. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report prepared for the Summit, 1 in 4 teachers globally never receive feedback from their school leadership. This highlights an opportunity for leaders to learn from each other about improving teacher evaluation and quality at the Summit. For example, today, the Dutch Education Minister shared that Holland is using peer review in teacher evaluation—a best practice learned from the U.S.

The previous Summits have been great learning opportunities for the U.S. delegation and inspired two important initiatives. One is the RESPECT vision statement for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession (shaped by over 4,000 American teachers). The other is Transforming the Teaching Profession, a framework developed by national groups representing teachers, superintendents, school boards, and state leaders that puts forth a common vision for teaching and learning.

Today in the Twitter feed for the Summit, a number of people tweeted a quote from the Estonian delegation, “Education is under heavy pressure. Either we make more and better rules. Or we must liberate the teacher profession…” As a teacher, I know that I want to be in a profession that is shaped by teachers. But owning our profession is not simply about being seated at a table set by others; we need to recognize that is our table.

While teachers and union leaders from the U.S. and other nations are at the Summit, I can’t personally be at the table in Amsterdam this week. Still, I can be informed and engaged. Here are some things I am doing:

  • Following the Twitter feed #ISTP2013 and participating in a conversation tomorrow on Twitter.

  • Reading the OCED background report for the Summit.

  • Reflecting on how I would answer the questions that are guiding this year’s summit and sending responses to the Teacher Mailbox, TeachTalk@ed.gov.

    • How is teacher quality defined by policy makers, the teaching profession and society? What standards are set and by whom?
    • How is teacher quality evaluated? What systems are in place and how are the evaluations carried out?
    • How do evaluations contribute to school improvement and teacher self-efficacy? What impact can be expected on teaching and learning from teacher evaluation?
  • Engaging in conversations with my colleagues.

  • Watching Secretary Duncan’s video played during the opening session.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Lisa Clarke

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.