Awards for STEM Partners
Inquiring Minds Gain Top Honors
In May, Science Forward wrote about the winning partnership between the Connecticut Science Center and Hartford’s STEM Magnet at Annie Fisher School. The two organizations have been working together since 2010 to transform how educators engage students more actively in learning. Since then, faculty members have received more than 220 hours of direct professional development training from the Science Center.Two exciting honors in recent weeks make us revisit STEM at Annie Fisher once again in this issue.
Teacher of the Year
Hartford Public Schools’ top teacher honor this year went to Keith Sevigny, who teaches 7th and 8th grade science for STEM at Annie Fisher. Sevigny has participated in the Fisher/Science Center partnership since its inception and is one of its most enthusiastic backers.
“The inquiry training provided by the Science Center has been paramount to the success of our school,” he says. He credits the program with erasing the intimidation many teachers felt about the best ways to teach science. “Being able to lay their science content knowledge upon a scaffold of teaching through scientific inquiry has allowed our teachers to really go above and beyond in creating units of study that are student-centered, interdisciplinary, and of high academic rigor.”
The scientific-inquiry method taught by the Science Center encourages students to ask questions, make observations, test those observations and gather data. It is a more active way of educating, designed to foster deeper retention of knowledge and life-long learning habits.
Sevigny said that having the entire faculty learn this method “allows us to work together to solve problems and opens up lines of communication that typically wouldn’t exist.” Sharing this common teaching system, for instance, enables educators from different grades and different subject areas to offer suggestions to each other about lesson plans, breaking down silos. “This has allowed us to support and develop excellent young teachers who are prepared to spread this model further,” he says.
The impact goes far beyond individual classrooms. “We began to realize the power that we had to start taking the school in directions that are, to this point, unchartered by other schools throughout the country.”
Sevigny says that the core of a true, inquiry-based STEM education is “teaching our students about process rather than product. We do this by making kids curious about the world around them, allowing them to ask questions, and letting them construct their own answers.”
This Teacher of the Year has high hopes for today’s generation of young students. He points to the tremendous advantage afforded them by the staggering wealth of information available today through technology and the internet. “The only thing I can equate it to historically is Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press,” Sevigny says. “Shortly afterward, and by no coincidence, came the Renaissance, where humankind experienced a collective leap in thinking and perception. I feel that we are on the cusp of something equally as great. We have the opportunity to create a generation of dreamers where the sky will literally be the limit.” And he sees inquiry-based learning as the key that will help them unlock those dreams.
While Keith Sevigny was in the spotlight on a local level as Teacher of the Year, the STEM programs at Annie Fisher school were garnering national attention. Earlier this month, the school was selected as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School for its overall academic excellence and its progress in closing the achievement gap between urban and suburban students.
The National Blue Ribbon process measures academic excellence based on a school’s performance on state standardized tests. The Kindergarten-8th Grade STEM at Annie Fisher, where nearly 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals based on family income, scored the third highest Overall School Index 88.3 percentage points) in the district, and had one of the highest single-year increases (7.3 percentage points).
“Principal Melony Brady and the entire faculty have created a culture of achievement in STEM at Annie Fisher,” says Science Center President & CEO Matt Fleury. “They are so enthusiastic about taking a new approach to teaching, and it’s paying off in better test scores as well as more excited and engaged students. As their partners, we at the Science Center couldn’t be more thrilled for them. This national recognition reminds the world that children from every background have the potential to succeed, that our society is indeed capable of creating opportunities for them to do so.”
More Professional Development Opportunities
The Science Center offers a variety of ways for educators to enliven their students’ experience of science, technology, engineering and math. While STEM at Annie Fisher’s partnership is the most intensive, hundreds of schools from across the state and beyond bring classes for field trips each year.
To help teachers make the most of these hands-on experiences, the Science Center offers Field Trip Professional Development Workshops. The one-day sessions give teachers an advance look at the exhibits students will see, and tailored, grade-level resources to connect those exhibits with classroom lessons. These resource materials fully align with the Connecticut State Science Framework Standards.
Several teacher workshops are available in September and October. For a full list, see the Science Center’s Professional Development page. And all educators are invited to join us Thursday, Sept. 27, 5-7:30PM for Celebrating Teachers, a free event featuring guided tours with a Staff Scientist, access to resource materials and, of course, complimentary food and drink.