Teachers’ Science Fair … Why Not Host One?

Several years ago sixth grade teacher Mary Clare Lynch of Durkin Park Elementary School had an idea. “What if we could bring teachers from different schools together one day after school to share our favorite inquiry science activities, so that everyone would leave with some new classroom tested activities to use with their own students? Wouldn’t that be great?” And although she tried to make it happen that year, the demands of the school year make it impossible. Teachers are very busy people.

Early this year, after valiantly battling cancer, Mary Clare passed away. She was teaching up to the week before her death. She was that dedicated.

With the support of their principal Daniel Redmond, her colleagues Cara Maloney and Jill Ryan Wirtz decided to honor Mary Clare’s memory by holding the First Annual Teachers’ Science Fair at Durkin Park. They invited teachers from other Golden Apple Inquiry Science Institute schools and the Chief of Schools for Midway Network, Luis Soria. On Wednesday, May 8, 2013, teachers from Durkin Park, Tonti, Everett and St. Bede’s gathering in the Durkin Park multi-purpose room and spent 2 hours networking, eating pizza, participating in a “warm-up” activity on polar bears and global warming using the Wheel of Inquiry, and present their most successful inquiry science activities.

Here’s what that looked like:

Cara Maloney and Jill Wirtz demonstrate how they use the Wheel of Inquiry to help students think about variables.

Cara Maloney and Jill Wirtz demonstrate how they use the Wheel of Inquiry to help students think about variables.

Humberto Rodriguez (Tonti) and Erin O'Neill (Everett) test the effects of icy water on insulated vs. non-insulated hands using Crisco to mimic polar bear fat.

Humberto Rodriguez (Tonti) and Erin O’Neill (Everett) test the effects of icy water on insulated vs. non-insulated hands using Crisco to mimic polar bear fat.

Network Chief Luis Soria and Principal Daniel Redmond dive into an inquiry activity about polar bears and global warming.

Network Chief Luis Soria and Principal Daniel Redmond dive into the inquiry activity about polar bears and global warming.

That’s the background. Here’s the point.

Holding a Teachers’ Science Fair is a brilliant idea. Mary Clare was right. To get to know your colleagues from other schools, to learn from them how they are implementing inquiry in their own classrooms, to share some of your favorite inquiry activities and leave with some new ones is part of what being a professional is about, and it’s not something we teachers do often enough. We tend to become siloed in our own schools, if not our own classrooms, and much of our professional development comes from providers who aren’t in classrooms anymore rather than from ourselves. What if we took back the reins more often and created our own professional development experiences? Why should we wait for others to set the dates and times and topics? Why not be self-directed in our professional learning, and not just in terms of our own college courses and pursuit of endorsements. Why not be self-directed with colleagues, self-organizing, creating our own professional learning communities simply because we want to and will benefit from both the collegiality and the learning?

This is an idea you could implement yourself. Just grab a couple of colleagues, pick a date, and put out the word.  Think about all the wonderful activities  and strategies teachers in schools just a few blocks away have to share with you.

I know that Mary Clare Lynch would have been thrilled with the Teacher’s Science Fair. She would have given so much to that day and derived so much from sharing with her colleagues. Her colleagues Cara and Jill did it for her.

As one of the teachers wrote on the evaluation, “Great job!  Love the idea!”

Thanks, Mary Clare!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute here: http://www.goldenapple.org/inquiry-science-institute

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