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2018 ISEC Teachers Institute

Sherwin Sando guides his fellow teachers through a 3rd grade engineering lesson.

Peer-Led Professional Development Means a Deeper Understanding of NM STEM Ready Standards for ISEC Teachers

It’s no surprise that teachers spend a lot of time outside the classroom planning lessons, preparing materials, buying supplies, reviewing curriculum, grading and reflecting on learning. But they often don’t have the opportunity to engage in formal professional development and supportive peer collaboration that is relevant to their instruction.

Teachers who participate in the LANL Foundation’s Inquiry Science Education Consortium, better known as ISEC, are offered that needed support and training. In addition to delivering free K–6 STEM curriculum and experiential learning materials to 43 elementary schools in Northern New Mexico, ISEC has also offered an annual four-day summer Teachers’ Institute since the program began eight years ago, paying a stipend to those who attend. Beyond making learning fun for kids and teaching engaging for educators, the program has also been aligned with New Mexico’s science education standards and has sought to build teachers’ professional growth with an overarching focus on pedagogy that aims to strengthen their practice across all subjects.

The ISEC professional development opportunity and teacher support was significant as partnering schools initially adopted the new inquiry-learning method of teaching science. Once teachers were well-versed in the inquiry model and their grade-specific curriculum modules (each grade uses two “kits” that offer numerous lessons over 10 weeks), summer training was needed only for those new to ISEC or changing grade levels.

In 2016, in an effort to better serve the needs of ISEC teachers and students, and in anticipation of a changing national focus on the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the program invested in all new materials and curriculum aligned with NGSS and practices, even though New Mexico had not yet changed its focus in this direction.

“We’re starting our third year using NGSS-aligned kits, and our teachers have received rigorous training,” said Doris Rivera, ISEC Professional Development (PD) Coordinator. “We can formally talk about NGSS, crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices with our teachers, and their students have been getting a higher level of instruction.”

Terri Lindstrom (left) trains her 6th grade teachers how to create a small-scale geologic timeline of major milestones in Earth history beginning with the formation of the planet.

As the program has evolved, it has been understood that support throughout the school year is directly tied to ISEC’s success. It is also recognized that teachers themselves have emerged as leaders in successful inquiry instruction and rely on each other for shared knowledge and experiences. In response, one-on-one coaching from the ISEC PD team, paired with ongoing peer connections through a Teacher Leader Cadre (TLC), have strengthened the approach through a train-the trainer-model.

On July 1, 2018, New Mexico adopted its version of NGSS, called the New Mexico STEM Ready! Standards. All ISEC teachers – nearly 600 in total – already have a deep understanding of the standards and inquiry method through the ISEC experience. This summer, 180 teachers were trained during the Teachers’ Institute and make-up sessions. TLC teachers themselves served as the trainers.

“Our teachers are the experts in their field,” said Rivera proudly. “We want our ISEC schools to know that their trainers are their fellow teachers in the program, working in the classroom, who understand our students and Northern New Mexico. We’re excited to be able to support teachers in a way that they can support each other and be leaders in the school community.”

Zelda Trujillo displays a story written and illustrated by one of her past Kindergarten students, demonstrating to ISEC teachers how to apply the Exploring Forces and Motion curriculum to a literacy activity.

The trainers are able to bring their direct experiences to the training and talk about the materials, lessons and activities, challenges and successes, and, most importantly, relate to their peers on a local level in a way that outside trainers, who were used the past, could not.

ISEC is not just about science in the classroom. Students are given the opportunity to learn in a different way, to think on their own, and develop critical thinking and communication skills. Rivera describes it as a shift from “do you know the answer” to “how do you know that answer, explore it, explain it, draw it, compare with others.” This exciting change is being led by the expert teachers in Northern New Mexico.

Special Thanks to the ISEC TLC members who served as trainers during the 2018 Teachers’ Insititute 

Mary Shoemaker & Zelda Trujillo, Kindergarten: Exploring Forces and Motion; Exploring My Weather
Rita Rios-Baca & Deb Magaña, 1st Grade: Sound and Light; Air and Weather
Kalmy Romero & Bart Ramey, 2nd Grade: Solids and Liquids; Pebbles, Sand and Silt
Sherwin Sando & Kimberley Vigil, 3rd Grade: Motion and Matter; Water and Climate
Javier Arellano & April Grant Torrez, 4th Grade: Energy; Soils, Rocks and Landforms
Delara Sharma & Aoife Runyan, 5th Grade: Mixtures and Solutions; Earth and Sun 
Rachel Barber & Terri Lindstrom, 6th Grade: Earth History

Mary Shoemaker (above right) shows her group of Kindergarten teachers how the weather-appropriate clothing on her Weather Buddy changes between cold and warm temperatures.


Answering the focus question from the beginning of the lesson, Rita Rios-Baca (standing) draws a model of a spoon gong system, illustrating how sound travels from source to receiver. The 1st grade teachers will ask their students to draw and label the same model in their science notebooks.

Deb Magaña (center standing) discusses the properties of light with the 1st grade teachers.

In a meaning making circle, Kalmy Romero (seated) listens as her 2nd grade teachers share what they learned. This important step to close a lesson helps students to communicate and synthesize learning.

Kimberley Vigil (left) and her 3rd grade teachers observe how water looks different on various surfaces.

April Grant Torrez (right) introduces new vocabulary words, while Javier Arellano (center) assists the 4th grade teachers in creating a telegraph machine.

During a 5th grade lesson, Delara Sharma (right) shows how an object floats in a salt water solution, in contrast with plain water where the same object sinks to the bottom of the cup.

Aoife Runyan (left) works with 5th grade teachers to measure the length of their shadows at different times of the day when the Sun and Earth are in different positions.

Rachel Barber (right) creates a stream table with her 6th grade class showing the effects of erosion.