Professional Development Coordinator Danielle Gothie (standing) works with a group of El Dorado Community School teachers during a Meaning Making training.
Professional Development Specialist Doris Rivera (standing) observes another group.
October 28, 2015 – The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation's Inquiry Science Education Consortium (ISEC) Instructional Team provides on-site training as part of the program's commitment to ongoing learning opportunities for teachers.
The ISEC Instructional Team provided training on the benefits of "meaning making" to teachers at the K-8 El Dorado Community School, not just those using the ISEC materials and curriculum.
The session involved an engineering lesson with the criteria to design a car that can travel a certain distance and carry a load. Using a defined set of materials—binder clips, straws, plastic disk wheels, cards, tape, and wooden sticks—in a 10-minute time limit were the specified constraints.
"Teachers, as we take you through the lesson cycle as students, ask yourselves how this translates to your classroom,” said Gwen Warniment. As program director, her vision for ISEC, in addition to providing meaningful STEM education opportunities for students and teachers alike, is to promote teacher leadership and become a professional development hub.
The teachers collaboratively built their cars, documented the process, and drew a diagram of their model labeling its features. Each team gave their cart a test run down a ramp in the hallway, measuring the distance traveled.
Afterward, the whole group reconvened for meaning making, one of the key elements to inquiry learning and student engagement. In a circle on the carpet, teams shared their learning experiences, guided by the focus question—what are the important features of a cart that will allow it to move from here to there? They examined why some vehicles moved farther than others, the function of the bearings, and how to make adjustments like changing the location of the axle that would reduce friction.
"This informal circle gives students who struggle a safe place to express themselves," noted one teacher. "This is a good way to practice vocabulary and model thinking," added another.
Deeper learning occurs when students become the teachers as they are drawn in by the discussion. “Inquiry pedagogy is the toughest type of instruction," said Gwen. "Be aware of what is effective and also the challenges."
Student collaboration, speaking, and listening are Common Core standards that can be reinforced with inquiry learning across all subjects. Drawing and notebooking are valuable to make student thinking visible for both themselves and their peers.
Teachers shared challenges including classroom management, different learning styles, and "air-time equity" where all voices are heard. The group agreed upon the importance of trust within the classroom community that allows students to safely explore in their own ways. Teachers also shared their concerns around how the learning objective can become overshadowed by competitiveness, fear, or feelings of failure.
Anne Darton, principal at El Dorado Community School, recognizes the value of professional development for her staff and sees that the assessment and meaning making strategies can be applied to different areas of education, not just science instruction.
“Our priorities are to increase rigor and student engagement,” she said. “ISEC connects those concepts in student learning, and the training offers strategies to engage students with the content. The ISEC team listens. They know what it's like to be in the classroom and what resonates with teachers."
For more information or to schedule educational professional development with the ISEC Instructional Team, please contact Danielle Gothie, Professional Development Coordinator for the ISEC Program, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505.753.8890 ext 117.
Teachers collaboratively build, test, then discuss their projects, modeling inquiry learning during the meaning making professional development.
Photos: Andrea Multari, ©LANL Foundation