STEAM Ahead 2017: Innovative Teachers Create Innovative Learners

Second annual event provides support and professional development for educators from their colleagues.

As educators we need to constantly ask, what is best for our students and how will our teaching prepare these students for their future as learners? Each year, the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING offers countless opportunities for professional development, with edTech professional development continuing to grow in popularity and interest.

Earlier this year, The ART of TEACHING held its 2nd Annual STEAM Ahead Conference which took place at Alvarado Intermediate School in Rowland Heights with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders from 15 districts across California.

Jerry Harris, executive director of Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING, Julie Mitchell, Ed.D., superintendent of the Rowland Unified School District (RUSD), and Holly Steele, former Orange County Teacher of the Year and Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) in Fullerton School District, welcomed 250 teachers to the daylong conference.
“The vision for STEAM Ahead,” says Sharon Sutton, Ed.D., Cotsen Consultant for 21st Century Learning, “not only provided a perfect opportunity to meet these goals, it furthered a personal goal for creating a safe, collegial environment for all educators to take risks with technology integration,”

Sutton created STEAM Ahead in 2016. She says that the conference embodies the ART of TEACHING’s commitment to “developing multiple, relevant opportunities to deepen alumni work, and to exploring how alumni can give back to educational communities.”

During the conference, thirty-eight presenters – many of whom were attendees at the first STEAM Ahead Conference last year – gave 28 talks and demonstrations on integrating science principles, the engineering process, and technology into a variety of K-6 disciplines. Presentations included “More Than Data, Science is a Story – Infuse Writing in the Science Classroom” (Dan Bennett, Ed Tech TOSA, Los Alamitos Unified School District); “When Math and Tech Collide” (Cheyenne Swenson and Georgina Tanaka, Current Cotsen Fellows, Downey Unified School District); “Making the Next Generation Scientist” (Jacob Jung, TOSA, and Ryan Rexer, Math Program Specialist, RUSD); and “Let’s Code and Foster Future Ready Skills” (Nancy Delgadillo, TOSA and Cotsen Alumna Fellow, RUSD

Kristine Spencer, a Cotsen Alumna Fellow (’15; ‘16), says that early exposure to STEM and STEAM is critical for early learners. “For younger students, technology should be taught as a way to show your learning in a creative way that can be shared with a larger audience,” says Spencer, who teaches in a 1:1 classroom and school. “A head start in STEAM and STEM allows students to focus on the larger concept of incorporating science, engineering, and math – not only on learning the technology.”The varied workshops offered during the conference vividly demonstrated the broad range potential of technology in the teaching and learning process. Sunghie Okino, a Cotsen Alumna Principal from Los Alamitos Unified School District, presented “Design School Wide Problem-based Learning Investigations with Community Connections – Make an Impact” with Anika Ballent of Algalita Marine Research and Education. Their collaboration on a school wide study of the impact of plastics pollution on marine life provided students, staff, and parents with an opportunity for STEAM learning, with civic engagement at its core.

Nancy Buck, a Cotsen Alumna Fellow (‘13) who teaches at RUSD’s Jellick Elementary School, presented “Take Your Upper Grade Explorers Through Makerspace!” which explored the use of data analysis tools and technology to support students through the design process. She says that the Makerspace Movement provides students with opportunities to use everyday objects and problem-solving as a transition “to successfully [bridge] their ideas into digital formats.  This brings students’ critical thinking and creativity to many components across the curriculum and helps them to see connections beyond the classroom.”

Buck says that conferences like STEAM Ahead are invaluable for alleviating teachers’ and school leaders’ anxiety about integrating tech into the classroom. “There is more and more professional development, both in person and online for edTech tools and strategies,” she says. “Continuing to offer edTech professional development in many forms will bring [educators] out of their comfort zone and along for the ride.”

Spencer, who focused on balanced literacy and readers’ workshop while a Cotsen Fellow, says that the ART of TEACHING has provided her with invaluable skills that enhance her teaching. “Cotsen’s professional development opportunities, site visits, and annual conferences have inspired me to continue to grow my practice,” Spencer says. “Through the many exciting things I have learned I have also continued to push myself in incorporating technology to make my students’ thinking and learning visible.”

Buck, who was RUSD’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, says that the ART of TEACHING has given her “a new understanding of the world beyond my own classroom….By having so many opportunities to see other educators across Southern California doing wonderful things in their classroom, it was easy to become inspired to refine my craft,” she says. “I crave to learn what best strategies are out there, due to my short two years with Cotsen. Before that, I was just in my own little world trying to make all the pieces fit on my own. Now I seek more conferences, edCamps, colleague visitations, and online resources more than I ever did prior to Cotsen.”

Dawn Deines, a Connect Coach and a Cotsen Alumna Mentor in Tustin Unified School District, says that she typically leaves an ART of TEACHING professional development event “excited about trying something new the next day.”

“Cotsen epitomizes the growth mindset,” she says. “It is so helpful to see new ideas in action. It is also extremely helpful to hear from experienced teachers and to be able to interact and ask questions. I no longer worry about the success or failure of an early attempt. I know that I will learn and grow with each experience.”

Harris says that the conference is a result of “the vision and dedication of the Principals’ Technology Network facilitators, who saw a need and designed a variety of learning experiences to address that need. The PTN facilitators are Cotsen Alumni Fellows and Mentors who work with principals to help them move their schools forward with thoughtful, meaningful technology into artful teaching for transformation of learning.”