Like many teachers, I have suffered through some pretty awful professional development (PD) days. Some where we are read to off a PowerPoint slideshow, one of the techniques we are told is not good teaching practice. Others are more interactive (e.g. think-pair-share) but still boring and/or not relevant to actual teachers.
I am a firm believer that PD needs to be much more self-directed to be effective. We, as teachers, are professionals. As such, we can be trusted to work toward our own professional growth.
I get so much out of reading blogs by and tweeting with other math teachers–including lesson ideas, projects, worksheets, innovative techniques, clear explanations, and feedback on my ideas. Mythagon does a great job explaining the value of the math blogging/tweeting community here. The engineering education community is smaller, but I’ve worked to create and find spaces for that collaboration to occur as well, including by creating an online course to share resources with other engineering teachers in Baltimore City, and by starting this very blog.
In an official PD Day setting, where teachers have school but kids don’t, what could a more self-directed PD look like? It could include time to develop and grow a virtual professional learning community (blogs, twitter, as described above). It could include time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or district, self-selecting colleagues in your subject area or outside it, and deciding as a group what topics need to be discussed. It could include a variety of seminars/presentations, each led by teachers, of which you can pick which ones to attend that you need the most development in.
The best PD is that which I can use in the classroom the next day or week or month. Some of the best days of PD for me personally have come from a series of workshops organized specifically for PLTW engineering teachers, through the Community College of Baltimore County and the Time Center. They’ve been offering these trainings for the past several years, and recently received an NSF grant to expand their ongoing-PD model to other schools and states across the country.
I attended one of these PD’s a few weeks ago about using and programming with FischerTechniks and RoboPro. We learned advanced programming techniques (variables, subroutines, displays, inputs/outputs, commands & operators, branches and wait fors). We applied some of these techniques to arithmetic operations, and some to operating the crane you see above.
For the second half of the day, we had time to complete a project of our own choosing. I needed some help and practice time with pneumatics, as they were not part of my original training in the Principles of Engineering and Computer Integrated Manufacturing courses but have since been added to the curriculum in both. To use the new curricula, we had to purchase supplemental kits, since our FischerTechnik kits did not come with pneumatic components. So this was still pretty new to me, and I really valued the time I had to explore, learn, and get help from both the professor and a teacher-classmate. We built the simple pneumatic system you see below, which will store compressed air in the tank using a motor and cylinder pump system, then convert the pressurized air to vertical or lateral motion. This has been especially useful, since I’ve been using the instructional resources provided that day, plus my greater understanding of this topic, to teach pneumatics and fluid power to my CIM students this week!
I shall be attending another PD this Friday at CCBC to improve my skills in using Autodesk Inventor, a 3D modeling software.
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