Mentor Teachers Lead the Next Generation of Science Educators
June 17 - July 11, 2008
When a Koosh ball spins, it bulges exactly the way that the spinning Earth bulges out at the equator and flattens at the poles. Such hard-won knowledge is manna for a science teacher.
In the world of science teaching -- which, at its best, is alive with demonstrations and "gee whiz" special effects -- this knowledge is life and death. That discovery took years for a veteran physics teacher to make. But it took much less time for him to share and demonstrate the effect with not only his students, but beginning science teachers, as well. In short, from June 17-July 11, 2008, San Francisco again demonstrates its secret weapon in science teacher training: a Leadership program for veteran science teachers and a related mentor program for beginning teachers, fueled by the Exploratorium's unique scientific and educational resources.
Results have shown a 90% retention rate, on average, for beginning teachers who participate in the program, at a time when nearly half of all schoolteachers nationwide leave their jobs within the first two years.
For just over a decade, the Exploratorium's Leadership Institute has trained veteran science educators every summer to become mentors to beginning science teachers at the middle and high school levels. Mentors pass on their knowledge, give new teachers support and feedback, and inculcate hard-won knowledge, like how a $5000 spectrometer can be improvised from a CD and a cereal box. The Beginning Teacher Program includes in-class coaching, an intensive summer institute, mentoring, Saturday workshops, and literally, a lifetime association with Exploratorium staff -- once a teacher has participated in the Institute, he or she is considered a member for life, and can return for lectures and workshops as often as needed. The purpose is to improve training and retention of science and math teachers. But it is the young students at the end of this chain who benefit from their teacher's immersion in the Exploratorium's hands-on, inquiry-based learning.
In fall 2008, the Institute plans to publish an online Leadership Manual for teachers and teacher training programs worldwide. It's an innovative approach to teaching teachers that is as time-tested as the Exploratorium itself, and as the numbers show, it is a system of learning that works.
And it works because at the Exploratorium, the teachers are the students. "It keeps me fresh and interested in teaching science," says teaching mentor and former beginning teacher Liz Abrahams, who teaches at Horace Mann Middle School in San Francisco. As the only museum in the country funded by the National Science Foundation to implement a comprehensive science program for beginning science teachers as early as 1998, San Francisco's Exploratorium is meeting a critical local need and serving as a national model.
All mentors in the program must have at least 10 years of classroom teaching experience. Since the program's inception, some of those first beginning teachers are now mentors themselves. Liz Abrahams is one. "The classroom visits and home visits from mentors were hugely important to me, because that first year of teaching is so difficult," says Liz Abrahams. "I really don’t know if I would have made it without their support."
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