Teacher professional development at the Smithsonian Institution

08/09/2011  |  Juliet Marie Crowell and Cyndi Trang
Professional Development

Teachers will be the first to tell you how valuable professional development opportunities are to them. Many educators take advantage of the training workshops offered exclusively to teachers, in the hope of gaining new content knowledge and resources they can take back to their students. School budget cuts have substantially decreased the opportunity for teachers to attend professional development workshops. Some believe that online teacher training is a solution and a good alternative for teachers who cannot get classroom release time. 

While online professional development allows teachers to learn when they want, at their own pace, it does not take them out of the classroom and it does not offer the same benefits as face-to-face, hands-on inquiry, along with social/professional peer interaction gained from attending a group workshop. As one blogger posed on the Department of Education Web site: “I really like a webinar for doing a little online learning; the only thing I have noticed though –you can’t get the in-depth conversations with your peers the way you do if you attend a conference or workshop—with the advances in technology, come the loss of that personal touch that can be so valuable in learning...”

Museums offer all these opportunities; they also provide professional development that can uniquely bridge formal and informal learning environments while providing an interdisciplinary approach to learning. The Smithsonian Institution is a major player in this type of experience. Teachers from across the nation and around the world can attend annual workshop opportunities at one of the 19 Smithsonian museums and research centers, not to mention the Smithsonian partnerships with 100 affiliate museums throughout the United States. The Smithsonian instruction offers teachers opportunities to come together from around the nation to learn about art, history, culture, and science (http://smithsonianeducation.org).

Take the Smithsonian American Art Museum: It offers a week-long, summer institute for middle/junior and high school teachers from schools nationwide; social studies and English/language arts teachers are especially encouraged to apply. During their stay in Washington, D.C., teachers get the opportunity to work with colleagues from across the nation to explore the connections among art, technology, and curricula through group discussions, hands-on activities, and behind-the-scenes experiences. For more information, go to http://si.edu/education/dev/cs/.

During the summer of 2011, the Freer Sackler Museum of Asian Art is offered teachers a free five-day workshop that explores the culture of Iran through the museum’s collection of Iranian art, films, and books. This museum offers an exciting venue to learn about art from China, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the near east through its collections. Exploration and learning through the use of museum collections is one of the ways that informational learning environments can support teacher learning.

The Smithsonian Institution through its research, collections, and exhibitions continues to support programming that links and leverages science, art, history and culture. Teacher workshops offered by the National Museum of the American Indian provides a holistic approach to teaching about American Indian cultures and provides teachers with interdisciplinary connections to their school curriculum (http://si.edu).

Teachers interested in environmental science workshops can venture off the National Mall and head down to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) on the Chesapeake Bay. This research center is distinguished for its involvement and progress in advanced biological and ecological research. For educators interested in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, SERC has a Teacher Development Workshop for K–12 teachers. The workshops are held at the Reed Education Center and give teachers the opportunity to participate in outdoor experiences and gain invaluable information related to the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and watersheds. To find out more about SERC’s Teacher Development Workshop, go to http://si.edu/education/ teachercorner/prof_development.aspx.

Interested in space science? The National Air and Space Museum offers eight workshops for teachers of grades three through 12. All workshops abide by the National Education Standards and have topics ranging from “Air Mail to Airlines” to “Problem Solving with the Wright Brothers.” Participants in the workshops will receive hands-on learning and classroom-tested lessons. More information can be found at http://si.edu/education/teachers.cfm.

Looking for learning more about earth history and the biodiversity of our planet? The National Museum of Natural History offers teacher professional development that leverages its scientists, educators, and exhibitions by partnering with other Smithsonian Units to provides both on-site, and virtual experiences. Partners include the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, Naturalist Center in Leesburg, Virginia, and the National Science Resources Center (http://si.edu/education/teacher_workshops.html).

For an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that utilizes the unique resources at the Smithsonian Institution, teachers can attend week long professional development academies of the National Science Resources Center. This is an organization of the Smithsonian Institution and a world-recognized leader in improving the quality of science teaching and learning through research-based classroom curricula. Go to http://www.nsrconline.org/curriculum_resources/index.html for more information.

The National Science Resources Center offers a series of exciting professional development opportunities for science teachers — the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers. Each of the three Academies — Earth’s History and Global Change; Biodiversity; and Energy: Past, Present, and Future — is based in the museums and/or research centers of the Smithsonian such as the National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and other locations near Washington, D.C. like the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Carnegie Institution for Science. This professional development program provides special access for teachers to the scientists, curators, and educators at the Smithsonian. These teacher academies are filled with inquiry-based sessions, tailored to meet each teacher’s needs, and make conceptual connections between science disciplines. “The week long program provided me with the tools of best practice in science pedagogy and introduced several hands-on labs and activities that I will be able to translate into more enriched and engaging lessons in my middle school classroom.”

The Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers can be taken for graduate credit through partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University and focuses on training middle and high school teaching in science content knowledge and improving pedagogical skills in the life, earth, and physical sciences (http:www.scienceteachersacademies.si.edu).

Through partnership with George Mason University the Smithsonian Conservation Biological Institute offers professional training in conservation science, forestry, wildlife biology, and environmental science. The National Zoo and its Conservation Research Center offer teachers the opportunity to learn alongside research scientists (www.nationalzoo.si.edu).

If you cannot make it to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you can still take advantage of the local teacher workshops, online teacher training, and classroom resources that are offered by many Smithsonian museums such as the National Museum of American History. In 2009 the National Museum of American History started online professional development in the form of a digital classroom for teachers. Virtual training given in real time over the internet in the form of webinars has opened up this and other museum beyond its physical doors. “And with the hundreds of activities online, we can help teachers excite their students about history learning whether they live in Oregon, Florida, or right here in D.C.”

Juliet Marie Crowell is the Science Education Specialist of Professional Development at the National Science Resources Center of the Smithsonian Institution. Cyndi Trang an undergraduate biology major at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia and a 2011 summer intern of the National Science Resources Center of the Smithsonian Institution. For more information, visit www.nsrconline.org.
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