NO! Heck NO! I Can’t Even…
One by one, kindergarten teacher Melissa Amory helped parents connect to the system to continue the school year online. Week after week she worked with those who couldn’t afford laptops, those with complex work schedules, and those with language barriers until all parents were up and running and ready to help their kindergarteners get back to learning.
Then the online learning system crashed with the sudden influx of users, and teachers received instructions for a new system. So Melissa started over. Then it crashed again.
That’s the moment when Out Teach Instructional Coach Luisa Aviles happened to call Melissa to set up an outdoor lesson planning session.
Overwhelmed, Melissa said, “I was like… NO! Heck NO! I can’t even… I can’t connect with half my students. There’s no way I’m tackling outdoor learning now.” So they made an appointment to check back in in a few weeks.
During that time, Melissa spent hours searching for ways to help get her young students to engage in learning. But the webinars and resources she found weren’t effective. After a few weeks, she’d managed to connect with her kids, but when they were on the video calls together, all the students wanted to do was socialize.
“Getting them connected socially to their classmates and to me is important for sure, we all miss each other and want to share what the experience has meant for us, but it was a real struggle to get them to switch over to schoolwork and get them engaged academically,” Melissa said. “Nothing was working. There are huge challenges with both synchronous and asynchronous learning for this community. The kids are 100% reliant on their parents for technical help, and the parents are facing a thousand other challenges. Helping their kindergartener switch back and forth between online learning tools… in an unfamiliar language…while on a cellphone… after work….while making dinner, it’s all just too much to ask.”
She needed to find a way to mesh synchronous sessions (when she’s on video calls with the kids) with asynchronous lessons (when kids receive work to do on their own) in a way that held kids somewhat accountable for their asynchronous learning and give it purpose. So Melissa started thinking about how colleges and universities assume that students have already done the reading, or the assignment and they use classtime to discuss, what educators call “flipped” learning. It’s not typically done in younger grades for obvious reasons, but with COVID-19 closures, there weren’t many other options. It was going to be a lot of hard work, but Melissa was prepared to figure it all out on her own.
Then it was time for her rescheduled meeting with Luisa.
Melissa says, “I explained to her what I’d been trying to accomplish, and Luisa shared with me how in distance learning we should have kids do the ‘remember and understand’ parts of Bloom’s taxonomy on their own, then use synchronous sessions to do the middle two parts – apply and analyze, and then they can take it back to asynchronous learning for the final two parts – evaluate and create. I was like YES! I’d hit a goldmine! All of her suggestions and ideas were 100% doable. This is exactly what I’d needed weeks ago. She had tiers of engagement for kids with different levels of access to the outdoors, and great suggestions on how to really meet kids and parents where they were in all of this and straightforward ways to get them engaged again.”
Melissa and Luisa talked through a lesson on object classification that might be a good fit and then worked to modify it to meet Melissa’s students needs.
Melissa gave students instructions (some during a call, others via parent email or text) to go outside and collect five natural objects. She then asked parents to take pictures of their child’s collections and send them back to her, and she compiled them into a virtual book, which she used to discuss how items were the same or different during the next class call. Children unable to attend call got to share their insights separately during the writing portion of the exercise.
“When I first gave students the assignment, I had a couple drop off the call, and I was worried they’d gone to play Minecraft. But no, one ran out onto his balcony and collected a couple leave that had blown in, another went out into his yard to grab sticks and rocks. They were so excited to have something engaging and challenging to do, and they’ve really impressed me with what they can accomplish. One student collected five leaves, and I asked her what they had in common, expecting her to tell me they were green. She quickly informed me that they were all spikey, and I was delighted she’d picked up that vocabulary word. Next week we’re going to expand on this activity with a version of Eye Spy using adjectives for clues on which item I’ve selected to be the mystery item.”
“It’s simple, low-tech, effective, and fun. I’m actually kind of sad that there’s only a few weeks left to teach now. I will absolutely be using outdoor experiential learning next year, no matter what the educational environment looks like.”
Out Teach salutes amazing teachers like Melissa who are working tirelessly to help students succeed through this difficult time. They’re the ones on the frontlines ensuring that though schools are closed #EducationIsOpen.
Melissa was kind enough to share her thoughts about the program with us on a video chat the other day, and we’re delighted she’s getting so much out of our Professional Learning Program.
You can learn a lot from a little space…
One honoree on our Teacher Wall of Fame, Dr. Katrina Macht, created and shared this great “Adopt a Spot” project-based learning activity for upper elementary and middle schoolers. Students pick 1 square meter of outdoor space that they can access regularly, and over the course of several days, conduct a census of the living and non-living things in that space, and record observations about each. Is there evidence of bugs eating plants? How many invertebrates can you find and of what type? Does the area have its own water source or does it rely on rain? How does this spots’ residents use the spots’ non-living resources to survive? Students then analyze and interpret their data on their mini-ecosystem, construct explanations, and explore cross-cutting concepts, such as cause and effect and patterns. Dr. Macht’s students love the lesson, and many have built an emotional connection to their adopted spot, revisiting it long after the lesson is over to see what the residents are up to. Thanks for sharing!
Taking Science Outdoors During Distance Learning
Teacher Notes – Connecting to NGSS
Just because we’re conducting classes from home during this pandemic doesn’t mean we can’t take learning outdoors. The purpose of these interconnected lessons is for students to use their own backyards, front yards, curb lawns, or neighborhoods to explore interdependent relationships between organisms, their environments, and each other, as well as probe energy flow within local ecosystems. Students will examine their local area(s) to identify the abiotic factors found on the site (Task 1), before collecting data on the number of plants and animals (abundance) and the number of different species (richness) found in the area (Task 2). Once the data have been collected and compiled, students will then analyze the information in order to construct explanations about how organisms interact with the living and nonliving parts of the environment to obtain matter and energy.
Ecosystems, interdependent relationships, resource availability, environmental interactions
Patterns of interactions (predator-prey, competition, mutually beneficial), symbiosis (parasitism, mutualism, commensalism)
Suggestions for Instruction
- Before the students outside to complete Task 1 have them develop a list of questions they have about the abiotic factors and resource availability of their site.
- At the site, students will set up 1-meter square quadrants to observe, and then collect and record data.
- This investigation may take more than one session to complete, depending on the amount of detail that is desired. By the end of the investigation the collected data should provide an ample overview of the features and resource availability of the designated area.
- Via an online learning platform (i.e. Google Meet, Zoom, Google Classroom, etc.), students will come together to share and discuss the data collected. Guiding questions may include:
- What do you think the data means?
- How can you analyze the data?
- Do you see any possible data correlations?
- Students will brainstorm a list of plant and animal species that may be found in their “adopted areas.” This list will serve as a basis for identifying organisms in the outdoor investigation.
- At their adopted study site, students will list all the different types of plants and animals they see in the area. (The site should be the same designated area as in Task 1. This survey may be conducted over 1 day, or a series of days. If it is conducted over several days, use a separate data collection sheet each day.)
- Students should take photos to identify individual species. They can also record any evidence of wildlife in their site, such as scat, feathers, homes/nests, partially eaten plant material.
- Class discussion. Guiding questions may include:
- What do you think the data means?
- How do you think the data collected in Task 1 impacts the data collected in this investigation?
- Do you see any possible patterns or relationships in the data?
- Students will then construct an explanation to answer the question: How do organisms interact with the living and nonliving parts of their environments to obtain matter and energy? The explanation should be in the format of: claim, evidence, and reasoning.
Connection to NGSS
- Performance Expectation, MS-LS2-1:
- Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
- Performance Expectation, MS-LS2-2:
- Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
- Disciplinary Core Idea, MS-LS2.A:
- Organisms and populations of organisms are dependent on their environmental interactions, both with other living things and nonliving factors.
- In any ecosystem, organisms and populations with similar requirements for food, water, oxygen, or other resources may compete with each other for limited resources, access to which consequently constrains their growth and reproduction.
- Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources.
- Similarly, predatory interactions may reduce the number of organisms or eliminate whole populations of organisms. Mutually beneficial interactions, in contrast, may become so interdependent that each organism requires the other for survival. Although the species involved in these competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial interactions vary across ecosystems, the patterns of interactions of organisms with their environments, both living and nonliving, are shared.
Science and Engineering Practices
- Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena: Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis.
- Construct Explanations and Design Solutions: Students are expected to apply scientific reasoning to show why the data or evidence is adequate for the explanation or conclusion.
Cross Cutting Concepts
- Cause and Effect: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural and designed systems
- Patterns: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.
Ms. Asher makes sure parents and teachers stay abreast of the students success in the class. She is patient, clear and provide additional resources and assistance if needed.
After years of teaching, Rayanne Pirozzi started to feel burned out. As much as she loved working to make a difference in kids’ lives, she could feel the frustration seeping into her days at school.
Looking for a way to get out of her rut, Rayanne turned to the outdoors. She’d always loved spending time outside as a child and signed up for a day of professional development from Get2Green in Fairfax on outdoor instruction.
“The literal AND proverbial skies opened. I was like, YES! If I’m loving learning so much more outdoors in a real-world environment, so will my students.”
So she returned to her “learning cottage” (a.k.a. portable classroom) sitting next to a swampy field and put her epiphany to work. Her 2nd graders needed to learn about life cycles and habitats, so she launched them on an outdoor project to create a garden.
Through guided discussion, the class decided to create a space to support Monarchs and other butterflies, and get it classified as one of the National Wildlife Federation’s schoolyard habitats.
“My class became a research and planning machine. Students who struggled to read were pouring through complex plant and insect guides. Classmates conferred on plant types and agreed that they should invest in native plants, both to support local wildlife, and reduce water usage and maintenance. They planned and executed a fundraiser to get cash for plants. Kids who’d never been excited about school before couldn’t wait to get to work on their project. I had one student who’d experienced head trauma and struggled with written or verbal communication. He used to get so frustrated in school and just disconnect, but for these outdoor projects, he started creating the most spectacular diagrams and drawings. He was making great observations and insightful associations, and he was interested and excited to learn what was happening in the world around him. Everyone’s joy and excitement was palpable. Learning is creating meaning in an authentic way, and there’s nothing more authentic than project-based learning in the real-world.”
Rayanne’s principal noticed her achievements with the 2nd graders and gave her a special assignment. Lynbrook students often faced serious challenges to their success in school. In addition to learning their classwork, many are simultaneously learning English, and annual household incomes limit access to out-of-school educational resources and opportunities. Though parents prioritize education, many are unable to provide academic support at home because of the language barrier. Without these extra resources, Lynbrook had a history of failing all their state’s standardized tests. But one by one, the principal and teachers had instituted systems to overcome challenges and pass these school-wide assessments. First in Math, which relies the least on complex language. Then in Language Arts, where specially trained ESOL teachers prioritized boosting English language acquisition. The last hurdle was Science, and try as they might, Lynbook students were not passing the test. Rayanne was asked to be part of the team to get an entire elementary school up and over a state-wide science assessment hurdle. Her principal gave them carte blanch permission to create a new program that would enhance the students’ classroom instruction and consult with grade level teams on Science instruction.
A common way to tackle a challenge of this size would be for teachers to reverse engineer the assessment system, focus exclusively on content, and basically teach to the test. Pedagogically speaking, this works in the short term. Focusing on having students repeat back the right answers to an upcoming test does work, but not for long. Without more context, authenticity, and meaning on which to attach new information, the brain quickly discards it, like last week’s shopping list, and students never get to build up on strong foundational knowledge.
Instead, Rayanne and her team focused on turning her students into “real” scientists, focusing on scientific practice and authentic real-world project-based learning. This approach ensured that not only would students acquire test-specific content along the way, but they would build a strong foundation of scientific interest and practice to drive their studies, deepening and expanding their understanding of the world around them.
First, she ensured students could actually see themselves as scientists. She addressed students as such, “Good morning scientists! What will you discover today?” She also presented them with a parade of examples of scientists of a variety of ages, races, and genders. When discussing the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, one boy was initially incredulous. “SHE? She’s a scientist?” he exclaimed, perplexed. Young scientists were of particular interest, as were scientists of color. “Representation sends a silent, but overwhelming message of who belongs somewhere and who doesn’t. None of my students are old white men in labcoats looking at a test tube. They’ve never even met an old white man in a labcoat looking at a test tube. That cliché is completely alien and inaccessible to them. To work towards something, you have to be able to see that it’s possible. Ideally, you do it yourself.”
Rayanne’s examples of “real” scientists also focused primarily on the hard work of the scientific process, not them magically being so smart they just came up with the right answer. Standard textbooks often overly focus on the moment of discovery, and not the years of questioning, observations, trial and error, processing data, not to mention resolving conflicting information with more of all of the above.
To get students away from this kind of thinking, Rayanne encouraged students to ask the “ungooglable” questions that interested them, collaborate on hypotheses, focus on the process, make mistakes, gather data, and build agreement, all in an authentic real-world environment, the outdoors. “The brain defaults to the path of least resistance, but it’s not exciting. Walking down a paved street is easy, but not exciting. Climbing up a rocky mountain is exciting. The infinite opportunity for exploration and discovery in an outdoor environment feeds students’ innate desire for higher-level thinking. All of those ‘why?’ questions you get when kids are little? Don’t answer them. That sends kids the wrong message. Respond back with questions that get them climbing up that mountain. They’ll learn pretty quickly that they can find the answers, that they have what it takes to learn and discover, and that they enjoy succeeding at these tasks.”
To deeply embed this dedication to Science into everyday instruction, Rayanne spearheaded Lynbrook’s partnership with Out Teach, whose staff came in to unite the school community around the construction of an elaborate Outdoor Learning Lab, filled with learning tools that supported hands-on experiential learning, not to mention a wide array of native plants (which Rayanne’s former 2nd graders insisted on during the design process). Out Teach also sent Instructional Coaches to work with teachers one-on-one on how to use the space and the entire outdoors to promote effective experiential learning in every subject, and how to naturally embed real-world Science into other lessons every day.
“Teachers have been amazed and delighted by the level of engagement from their students when using outdoor teaching techniques. We have had lessons in the outdoor classroom with students K through 6, which have covered all areas of content including Reading, Writing, Social Studies, Math and Science. Once teachers see how much more joyous and effective Out Teaching is, they become true believers. We have classes outdoors all the time, it’s that good.”
It’s with this level of support that four years ago, the first year all of Lynbrook’s students realized they were born scientists, that the school passed their state Science assessment, and every year since.
With schools closed because of COVID-19, and most of the Lynbrook community without internet or home computers, Rayanne was initially at a loss on how to help her students continue learning from home. She spent hours upon hours scouring the internet to find activities for students that faced her learning community’s challenges. “Then I slapped my forehead. I’d been wasting time on an ungooglable question. Talk about learning from failure. I’m the one who knows best how to help my students learn through this. I need to climb this mountain and create these resources myself.”
So Rayanne began to make a series of short mobile-friendly videos for twitter, since most students at least have access to a parent’s phone at some point in the day. In these little snippets, she encourages her students to continue to go outside to learn and make observations. To accommodate English language learners, she focuses on a few key science vocabulary words at a time, and keeps the rest of her language simple, allowing students to acquire the new words with lots of supporting contextual information. Videos include daily check in on the school’s caterpillars (whom the students adore), who are sheltering in place at Rayanne’s house, as well as complex questions around common outdoor phenomena — a tree transformed by rot, a worm on the sidewalk in the rain, eroding dirt. All things students have likely passed by a hundred times before without noticing. But that was before Rayanne showed them they were real scientists, and now there’s no turning back.
You can check out Rayanne’s COVID-19 distance learning videos here. And follow Lynbrook ( @LynbrookES_FCPS) and Rayanne (@rayanne_pirozzi) on Twitter for daily inspiration!
To the Out Teach cohort at Whittier STEM Elementary, thank you very much for your hard work! It was an amazing year. We always look forward to seeing your outdoor lessons.
Another shout out read…
Our Whittier Warrior Teachers are the BEST! What a way to kick off a new garden in our school but to have 6 amazing teachers dive into the experiential learning world and show our families and fellow teachers how it is done!! I could not pick one teacher for this award, this well-deserved acknowledgement, because they all engaged their students in such different ways. I want to SHOUT OUT our Creative Kindergarten Crew, Ms. Gilliam and Mr. Hall; Our Fabulous 1st grade teachers Ms. Camp and Mr. Pace, and finally our Stupendous 2nd and Thrilling 3rd grade teachers, Ms. Lewis and Ms. Marryshow!! Their students loved the activities and cannot wait to return to the garden!!
Thank you to Ms. Aviles for her support and opening our minds to the possibilities of teaching any subject in our outdoor classroom!!
I was always looking forward to coming to your school, thank you for teaching your students the way they wanted to learn.
As part of its #EducationIsOpen campaign, Out Teach has upgraded our Coaching Center so that it better serves teachers and parents looking to balance screen time with hands-on outdoor learning.
Now, both teachers and parents can use the Google Workbench system to assign Out Teach’s engaging outdoor lessons to students at home. Teachers using Google Classroom or Clever can now automatically sync their student rosters into the system and track student progress. Parents, and teachers using other learning management systems, such as Canvas or Schoology, can copy and paste the URL of any of our lessons into emails or their systems to assign.
- Teachers and parents can join Out Teach to assign student lessons here.
- To protect student privacy, parents and teachers must also verify their permissions here
- To learn more about your new permissions and capabilities, please review this tutorial, or this webinar from the Florida Dept. of Education.
Out Teach stands with teachers and parents during these unprecedented times to provide critical support. Please share the outdoor lessons you lead on social media with the hashtag #EducationIsOpen so we can celebrate your success.
Out Teach launches #EducationIsOpen
a National Campaign to Support Distance Learning Through COVID and Beyond
— Schools may be closed, but together we can ensure that #EducationIsOpen —
To support teachers, parents, and students struggling to create effective learning experiences at home during the COVID-19 crisis, national nonprofit Out Teach has launched #EducationIsOpen (educationisopen.org), a campaign to keep children learning while schools are closed by providing engaging hands-on outdoor lessons.
Out Teach is a nonprofit transforming education by empowering elementary teachers to use hands-on outdoor lessons to make instruction more effective and engaging, particularly for students in under-served communities.
Researchers predict that children missing weeks of instructional time due to this crisis will face a 40% loss in reading progress and a 54% loss in math. And that’s for the average student. Students in under-served communities are at risk of sliding even further behind.
To help halt this COVID-slide, #EducationIsOpen is providing free lessons for students, teachers and parents that support hands-on outdoor learning and training for teachers to integrate hands-on learning into their virtual instruction to promote deeper student learning. This support ensures that students aren’t losing the engaging learning experiences they need to succeed in the future, and that teachers have the personalized professional development they need to navigate this crisis.
Out Teach’s free online lessons and educational resources balance screen-time and real-world learning. In particular, the site offers hands-on Science and STEM content to help ensure students are still learning both scientific content and skills.
Teachers and parents alike can find free interactive lesson plans and resources on educationisopen.org, and they can get started sharing these lessons to their students and customize and create their own at bit.ly/OutTeachJoin.
Out Teach is encouraging teachers to not only use the resources, but to share their #EducationIsOpen experiences on social media, so that success stories and pictures of amazing student work can inspire others to follow suit, creating even more hands-on outdoor learning opportunities for even more students.
This level of support ensures that students aren’t deprived of the deep and engaging learning experiences that get them excited about learning, especially about Science, and puts them on the path to success in school and in life.
Jeanne McCarty, CEO of Out Teach said “Education today equals opportunity tomorrow. By making all of our outdoor experiential lessons and resources free for teachers and parents, and creating new resources and training opportunities for teachers, we can help keep the learning opportunity gap from growing during this crisis, and keep students interested in Science and STEM during the critical early years. And when teachers embrace the power of experiential learning outdoors, they’ll be able to unlock student performance for years to come. We’ll keep providing #EducationIsOpen resources through the months and years to come so that every child has access to the kind of transformative real-world learning experiences that can change their lives.”
#EducationIsOpen is made possible in part by Sprouts Farmers Markets
In case you missed it, Out Teach CEO Jeanne McCarty joined Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO, Dr. Monica Goldson, and Justina Schlund from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to discuss the importance of STEM and SEL skills for children in under-served communities, and to share how these two skill sets are deeply inter-related. Hank Harris from Human Capital Enterprises moderated the panel.
In particular, Jeanne shared how outdoor experiential learning empowered teachers to build both sets of skills at once. You can watch the presentation here, or read the transcript and view the accompanying slides below.
Sure. Hi everyone. I’m Justina Schlund, I’m the director of field learning for the collaborative for academic, social and emotional learning. CASEL
Good morning. My name is Monica Goldson. I’m the chief executive officer for Prince George’s County public schools. The same as superintendent. unless you’re just counting. We are all in is right outside of Washington DC in Virginia. I have 206 schools, 136,000 students in 20 2008 by voting.
I’m Jeanne McCarty and I’m the CEO of an education nonprofit go out teach and we partner with school districts to improve science learning specifically for elementary students.
Okay. Thank you. Thank you panelists. Uh, and I’m Hank Harris. my background is as a teacher principal and a HR director, uh, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. And for the last uh, eight, nine years I’ve been focusing on, uh, supporting school districts with HR, strategic consulting and also executive search, finding great leaders for great school districts. But my connection to this work is a proud of member of the board of directors for three years for out teach. So, I wear a couple of different hats from the HR hat. I’m also connected to this work, because there is actually a pretty direct connection between social, social, SEL, social, emotional learning and STEM and HR. If we go to that next slide. so in the HR world, it’s, it’s, you probably are all familiar with SHRM society for human resources management and as an HR guy I try to keep on top of trends in the HR world and SHRM as we call it, is a kind of the governing entity if you’re not familiar with them, but that kind of oversees how a workplace is a pro ball being developed and they put out a report annually.
Uh, it’s called the state of the workplace and this is some data from the 2019 state of the workplace. They are asking employers, they get tens of thousands of responses. Uh, [inaudible] is a data that I think are, that are worth looking at, are right up there in terms of the top three missing soft skills that employers report and the top three missing technical skills that employers report. And it might not surprise you that the top three missing soft skills right now are, uh, number one, this is combined problem solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity as a, as a single miss. the second one is adaptability, flexibility, ability to change gears and handle the risk. It’s also paraphrase as the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity. So that’s a second soft skill that’s missing. I’m at all surprised to see the third one, which is communication. As we bring in a new generation of folks who are far more in tune to text message each other, then use their mouth to communicate. That is a missing skill as well. Employers report that the three top three missing technical skills are trade skills such as property, dream, plumbing, day analysis, and science, engineering and medical.
And you’ll see in the next slide of that, uh, also I don’t think these are terribly surprising, but same report reported that 13 of the 20 fastest growing industries in the country are STEM-related. I actually thought it might even be higher, but 13 of the top 20 fastest growing industries are STEM-related. And that next orange box indicates that employers report that social and emotional skills are both the most important to yield success in the workplace and are also the hardest to find. And we as educators are probably not terribly surprised with some of these findings. if we move to that next slide, we’ll see that. uh, so, so there’s a, there’s a, there’s certainly a possibility as we think about how we invest our school dollars into whether we think of sociol emotional learning or whether we think about technical and we often think about those as two completely separate notions.
In other words, if we invest heavily in STEM, what we are going to afford our young people the opportunity to find those jobs in STEM, we know that they’re out there waiting for kids and we want to make sure that they have that technical skill. And then another part of the organization might be charged with thinking about if we just make sure our kids have a really rich SEL and 21st century skill development, they’re going to go out there and have those soft skills to also be successful. But the work that our analysts have really come to understand and are going to talk to us about today is that they think of those in silos. It’s not, it’s, there’s a little bit of myopia and thinking about those soft skills and those technical skills as separate and actually that these skills can be intricately connected and learning, not only in terms of efficiency, but just in terms of the richness of what that develops in terms of kids’ ability to grow and learn across these, as the work of CASEL.
And, uh, we’re going to learn that. let’s go back just one side again, as the work of CASEL indicates there’s just an interplay between the associate, so the social, emotional, I’m sorry to keep dripping on that word, the social, emotional and the STEM and that they build upon each other for greater levels of evolution and sophistication for our young people as they develop these skills. So, before I talk any more about kind of the HR world, really, we’re here to learn about education. And so I would like to, uh, ask our first question, uh, to our, uh, panelists from, uh, from CASEL. Uh, let me start with a big picture question. So Justina, you’ve been in this field for 25 years. I’ve been talking to a lot of district leaders and they, they are wondering about sci because a lot of talk and discussion about SEL. Can you give us a big picture overview of social emotional learning and why you should be important to districts and what’s happening nationally and where are you seeing successes and where are you seeing gaps?
Great. Thank you so much. Hank. hi everyone, I’m Justina Schlund, the director of field learning for CASEL. CASEL, if you’re not familiar, is a field building organization where the folks who defined SEL 25 years ago are affects familiar. Can you raise your hand if you’ve seen this graphic on the screen? Great. So about half of us. So most people, when they think about SEL, if they’ve been exposed to it or have seen kind of the inner circle of this graphic, which is the five core competencies that CASEL has defined as being instrumental to students, lifelong success and helping them to meaningfully contribute to their families, their workplaces, schools, et cetera. These five core competencies involve my understanding of myself. So who am I? What are my emotions with my cultural, social identity? All of that comes into play as well as how do I manage my behaviors and express my agency and my voice, which is self management as well as how do I relate to others.
So do I understand kind of the diverse cultures and backgrounds and experiences of other folks and perspectives of other people? And I met able to build relationships across differences, resolve conflicts, et cetera. And then am I able to make responsible decisions, such as setting goals for myself and pushing myself past struggles to achieve those goals. Now, the way that CASEL defines social emotional learning though is not whether I possess or through not possess these five core competencies, but rather a lifelong process of learning that starts from infancy and goes all the way through adulthood. So we really think of SEL as something that occurs through every interaction that you’re having with people as you move through every context, whether you’re a child or an adult. Outside of this, outside the five core competencies kind of demonstrate the ecosystem for children, which is as I moved through my classrooms, how do I, I develop these competencies in my relationships of how I’m being instructed at the same thing as I need throughout every part of the school building as well as through find homes and communities.
The other thing I think is important when we talk about the definition of SEL, I think you used the term Hank soft skills. And there’s some folks I think who think of SEL as sort of a nice soft wishy washy part of education. and the work that we’ve done is to show that there is a strong and rigorous research base for social emotional learning spanning 25 years. It’s research that has been done with randomized control trials and has been replicated over and over and over. In kind of the 2011 landmark study on SEL and booked across 213 different studies that involved 270,000 students across the nation from pre K through 12th grade. We found that social, emotional learning, high quality evidence-based SEL programs not only led to what you might expect at increased social emotional competence, decrease behavior problems, better behaviors overall, but it translated into an 11 percentage point gain in academic achievement. So on math and reading test scores. So there’s a direct connection to academics.
Years later we did a followup study to that 2011 study that found that these gains not only occur the year of the program and the year after, but they were long last name and they translated into longterm outcomes like high school graduation, like employment rate, decreased criminal activity, et cetera. And so it’s no surprise that that followup research, that found that there is a strong return on investment for SEL programs that for every dollar you spend on SEL as a society, we get a lot intolerance return on investment. so, so I think, you know, many of you may be familiar with when some of this research and some of the talk about SEL because I think when your questions about the national trend, right, is that we have seen overwhelmingly in the last few years, there’s been kind of a nationwide SEL movement where nearly every school and nearly every district in the country at least know or have her or has some awareness of what SEL is.
I, I think your question around what are the gaps and challenges right now. one I I think, although we know when it is, what we’re hearing over and over is people are still kind of grasping at, you know, is this, how does this relate to trauma? How’s this relate to restorative practices? How does this relate to my school and what do I actually do to implement SEL? so a couple pieces that I know we’ll talk about today that I think are really critical for us to focus on is one, how does SEL integrate into everything else that we’re doing as educators statically? So within the school, during out of school time, in outdoor spaces, et cetera. as well as how are we developing the robust and professional learning and continuous support for educators to be able to implement SEL well
uh, let’s turn it over to Monica and get a district’s perspective. So Monica, what brought you here to the panel today and why are you making STEM and SEL and 21st century skills a priority for your district
Dr. Monica Goldson
thank you. Good morning.
So for me, I’m in a district that is predominantly African American students. 90% children of color are the students that I serve. But believe it or not, 82,000 students are on free and reduced meals in my district, even though we are considered to be one of the most affluent African American community in the country. And so for me in Prince George’s County, there is a true disparity on what we offer our students. And to begin to tackle that equity question has allowed me to really look at what we have to do in our school district to make sure we begin to level that playing field. we are guilty of being one of those districts that tried to look at SEL separately from curriculum. I will admit that we figured, okay, let’s, you know, we’ve done curriculum we think we do that well, SEL is here now let’s figure out what we have to do and do we have time in the schedule.
It’s often to those skills. and we really honestly truly had to have a conversation with our educators, professional development team to talk about how we can begin to integrate those experiences. And one of those ways to do that was through STEM because it is an area where we did not have a large number of females, that we were providing exposure to as well as many of our African American students. Even though we are a school district that represents 90% children of color. honestly when we began to desegregate our data, we were only really filtering in certain types of students into that program. And so we had to have a very hard look at where we were. and to begin to level that playing field, we realized that we had to create educational experiences at an early age in order to make sure that our students were exposed to experiences around STEM and, and in project based learning that allowed them to be leaders to trust in their decision making and to be able to present that information in a way that they could convince their peers and their teachers that they actually understood the content and knew what it was that they really, truly believed in.
And when you go back and you look at the soft skills that Hank showed early on the slide, when you begin to tackle that in your classroom experiences, you two were addressing some of those skills that many of our businesses, our business partners told us our kids were lacking. So we were preparing them in many of our science and technology programs. but we had not met their need in terms of providing those SEL competencies that we thought we were doing. And so we had a hard look at ourselves about what we could do to provide those experiences. And then we had some very true conversations about pockets of students within parts of our district. Their parents had the financial capacity to provide them experiences during the summer that could meet their STEM SEL needs. But once again, as I said, I have an 82,000 students whose parents could not afford those summer experiences. And so for me to begin to level that, I had to offer it during the school day. because many times in our communities they were staying home during the summer and then not going to those experiences. And so we had to have some true conversations about how we could begin to put that as part of our everyday experiences for students.
So Jeanne, we’ve heard some of the research from CASEL, the district perspective from Prince George County. So I would teach, brings on the ground perspective through the partnership with school districts and as close to working with teachers around the private country organization, coaches, teachers with hands on science instruction. So how did you begin integrating SEL and 21st century skills into the STEM work?
Thanks for asking. Because our journey has been quite different. we are focused on improving teacher practice and we partner with school districts to do it. We’re a very proud partner of Prince George’s County schools. But you know, the two biggest in school factors for student success are teacher effectiveness and student engagement. So when we designed and built Out Teach , we built it to support both of those through experiential learning because experiential learning is proven to accelerate learning for all students of all backgrounds and learning styles. And it also engages students deeply in learning. So that is the pedagogy that we were using. We also focused on outdoors settings because that’s where students are really engaged, they’re engaged when things are real world, not just hands on, but when you immerse them in an environment that’s real, they, their engagement goes up. So Out Teach coaches, teachers on very specific targeted student, targeted teacher practices.
And we bring together, experiential learning and other frameworks like Danielson’s, uh, and 3D learning. So, what we zoomed in on was what we thought was good teaching. And so we even joked around as our staff, like, this is just good teaching. So let’s put the practices together. And then let’s also give teachers a new tool, which is simply the outdoors.
And so what does good teaching look like in our outdoor partner schools? And so this is, this is how we have designed our program, but in outreach partner schools, teachers are facilitators and students direct learning more. There’s more autonomy. Instruction is anchored in the real world outdoor phenomenon that’s happening every day. Anytime you walk out outside there, these experiences are really easy to find and students grab the relevance of why they’re learning. Instruction becomes more cross curricular. So while we focus on science, we also do really work hard to coach teachers to integrate math and language arts into that.
And then students are often working collaboratively and they’re building positive relationships with each other. While they’re engaging in the real world learning and the problem solving. so in building our coaching program, we were aware that we were supporting more than just academic learning, but we didn’t put a name on it and no, that time I think we were talking about pro social skills. And so, we didn’t set out to integrate SEL and it happened as a result of just focusing on good strong teacher practices and then also moving the classroom from that traditional classroom setting where students are seated and working at desks or tables to an outward more freely moving around.
We also, we’re measuring our impact on teacher practice, but we weren’t measuring SEL outcomes when we initially started. But in the open ended con comments that teachers were leaving over and over and over again, they would talk about what was SEL outcome.
So teachers would say, my students are collaborating like I’ve never seen before. They’re offering really creative and exciting solutions to problems. I’ve never seen them as thoughtful and considerate of each other. And then what we saw just across every state that we were working in is that those students that teachers would say that students that indoors were more isolated when you move them outdoors. They were often actually leading, they weren’t just working with their peers but they were leading. So once all of this happened, we decided to get much more intentional about what we were doing. And at that point we looked at different frameworks. We brought in CASEL into our teacher practice rubric. We brought in very specific 21st century skills into the rubric and all of you have that. And we handed it out to look at the teacher practices that we are, that we’re targeting.
Another really interesting thing that has come up now when we put together cohorts of teachers that launch our coaching program, we asked them what are the practices out of numbers that we named, you know, which ones do you want to work on specifically. And from that we are seeing more and more that teachers are asking for support in SEL in 21st century learning in addition to science. So it’s naturally becoming much more integrated. So that’s why we’re here today. Hank. I mean we came at this in a different direction, but integrating SEL 21st century learning in science and putting it into a new setting and context is good teaching and we are excited to be here.
Thank you for sharing. So, Justina, your organization CASEL is one of the driving forces on the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development , which published “A Nation at Hope,” which provided some really compelling evidence that SEL was causal to academic learning with caused districts to launch SEL programs. Monica program as highlighted by the mission districts. Districts have got to go beyond adding a layer of SEL and truly integrate SEL into academics. Why integrate so called “soft skills” into academic instruction and how do you integrate them? What are the implementation gaps that you see?
Sure. That’s a big question. so, so yeah, so the national commission on social emotional and academic development kind of brought together educators, scientists, policy makers across the country really to align on what has the research told us, not just from the SEL field, but from brain science, psychology and, and all these related fields. Right. And what we found, uh, or, or what we kind of came to consensus on that we know to be true. It’s very simply that no deep learning can occur unless a teacher is paying attention to the environment and to the way that students are engaging socially and emotionally. Right? And, and what that means simply is that learning deep learning is not occurring if you have students sitting at desks individually being lectured to by a teacher. And we all probably know this as educators to be true. I think if you were in Linda darling Hammond’s keynote this morning, she referenced a lot of her work on the national commission and she talked about some of the research about how students have trouble learning just from videos, right? They need a human interaction, right? And I think, I think especially when we’re talking about the STEM fields where we’re talking about things that are inquiry based and requires kind of pushing through struggles and challenges, we know this to be true is that number one, students need a relationship to be there. And in order for them to be able to push through those challenges, to be able to ask the deep questions, to be able to receive feedback as they’re going through that process. And number two, that students have a deeply emotional connection to their content. And when they don’t, and when that’s not paid attention to you, right? They are tuning you out, they are zoning out, they’re not learning. and so what does all this mean for teachers and, and how do we actually implement this in the classroom?
I think there’s a couple of different ways to conceptualize. So the academic and SEL integration at CASEL, we’ve tried to kind of simplify it into three in or related buckets. One is, what do students believe about themselves be true? So academic mindsets related to play belong to this school or classroom community. Like lead that with effort. I can grow and succeed and does this work of meaning to me? Right? and, and I think when we think about, STEM fields, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, right, and I sat in a calculus class and I, I was taught different formulas and ways to approach those problems. It didn’t relate to my lived experience. I didn’t see the relevance to, uh, you know, my daily life. And what I would do in the future. And I think you all know that to be true as well for students.
If they can’t see that connection or if they believe that they’ve been sent messages based on their gender or their race or other factors that they are not a math person or they’re not a science person, that automatically right is going to limit the amount of learning that they can do in the classroom. but we also think about what students learn. So the actual content that they’re engaging in, for the objectives. And I think, the way you can see this right is if you think about a science or math objective, you can think about all the different types of skills that students might need in education that is not just, do I know the formula or do I know, do I know I have kind of a periodic table, right? Like, am I able to collaborate with a peer and, work on a problem together? I may able to present that idea in front of the classroom. So all those soft skills are part of that objective. and then thirdly, perhaps most importantly, social emotional learning also involves not just what we teach, right? But how we teach it. So, so again, this notion that students aren’t learning deeply when they’re sitting at a table in rows without interacting with others. we know that deep learning occurs when they have opportunities to interact with other, with other peers, to explore their ideas to lead the discussions to reflect and spend time on their own and thinking about how this connects to their experiences, their community, et cetera.
and so, so all of this is part of, kind of what we see as a high quality SEL learning experience for students. So, along with the integration of SEL and academic instruction, we think about how the environment is shaped to support that student and as well as how are they explicitly having opportunities to practice and develop their social emotional competencies, using a program or a curriculum or practices that are evidence-based. so I think in terms of, kind of the challenges that we see, again, you know, I think, I think like we frequently hear are top challenges as time and funding those kinds of things, but really over and over. but it really comes down to is having a way for educators to really be able to start this in the classroom. I think when educators see a clear path to how you do this work and how you are able to teach it on a daily basis, that’s when the time becomes apparent, right? That’s when the resources become apparent to help support that as well.
Thank you. Thank you. Monica. I’ve got a few questions for you. Uh, so what other instructional efforts are you trying in order to integrate STEM and SEL and what are you seeing other districts use and how does outdoor experiential work care and the, what are the gaps and hurdles you’re facing?
Dr. Monica Goldson
Sure. So let me start with, where we are in terms of outdoor experiential learning. We have an outdoor educational center that solely focuses on science and we provide that experience for all of our first graders who we host a day trip there at our educational center. And then all of our fifth graders have an overnight experience. we call it camp Schmidt, students by far love it. but at the same time, notice I said first and fifth. So that means that there’s a big gap that exists, in between that and we acknowledge that, which is why the Out Teach component piece was so important to us because it is school based and anytime you’re going through issues financially in a district, the very first thing folks begin to look at is, okay, well limit your experiences because we have to transport students across the district to camp Schmidt. And so very quickly that is the one area.
And so as we started to begin to look at how we can begin to close that gap, we knew that really to make a difference, it has to be at each school, at our elementary schools. And that’s how we started the conversation. With Out Teach , I have 120 elementary schools and we don’t have it at every elementary. So as we’re working to do that, and we knew that this was one of the ways we could do that, I think we’re exceptionally successful when it comes to high school level. So I say we have a elementary program and then we skip all the way to high school. And so we offer at the high school level, a program called Pathways to Technology. And we’re acronym driven County. So P tech, and students focus on two areas, health and technology and hospitality and management. And they’re working as high school students towards getting their associate’s both at the same time. And we have several programs like that extremely popular. the professors actually come to the schools to work with them in those areas. by their junior year, they are transported to the community college for those experiences along with other community college students. They have mentors from the world of work in the technology industry. those mentors do, are committed to doing internships with those students in the summer, very public program and are extremely committed to once they get affirmed their associate’s degree and bringing them on to their work experience. And so that’s one program that has really helped propel us at the high school level. And then we are this fall of 2020 launching a three dimensional education experience with junior achievement, which will be in one of our low achieving high schools where we’re calling as a wall to wall Academy starting in grade nine. and students will have experiential unit, six of them throughout the year that are driven by a business organization.
And for us we are strategically targeting organizations in the area of science, technology and mathematics so that we can expose for us children of color to problem real world problem based issues that that company has. students have to do a presentation to solve that problem. They get rated by their peers, the top six presentations, then go to the business organization and present their solution to the problem in front of, in front of their executive panel. And then that one team that wins actually is up to us to begin to provide them with a center for prize, et cetera. And more importantly, bragging rights because that’s free. And so, we’re beginning to have those programs that help to foster leadership skills and for our students to be able to see themselves in roles that they had never been in before. So most recently I had a conversation with a group of students, and as we were talking about exposure to careers, it struck me, that one young lady said, I can’t be what I can’t see. And as I left, it was the one thing that resonated for me.
And so when I took it back to my team, we had some very candid conversations about places where we don’t see, African American females, because that’s who said it to me and where we had to strategically block them out ourselves because we had created our own barriers. And so we have begun the process of trying to tackle that. and what you see here that previous I was actually our teachers doing professional development because we then had to have conversations with our own teachers because we realized that we were some of those, we were creating some of those barriers. but as we began to look at what we providing academically for our students, what we found is, is that the earlier that we expose them to STEM experiences, then they’re more likely to go into our high school experiences. And so you’ll see some data here.
in 2016, we decided to eliminate one of those entrance barriers who chose an exam that we had created to block her own kids out. And once we removed that barrier, we create, we allowed students entrance into our science. And technology programs multiple by just using PSAT results at grade eight and their core grades in English, math, science and social studies. And we took the top 100 students. whoever had the highest top 100 scores, you were invited to join any of our science and tech programs. And you can see what happened after we removed that from 17 one, the number of female students has grown versus our male students. And that’s because for when we talk to our students, they said, I didn’t believe I had the ability to. And so once we removed some of that big one of those barriers, they could see, Oh my gosh, I actually can, we don’t force you into it and you can opt decide whether you don’t want to.
But for us what we decided to do was opt them in and then you opt yourself out if you don’t. What we had been doing was opting them out beforehand and we had done that because what we did was offered this exam on a Saturday where parents had to bring them. So already I’ve created a barrier because I’ve told you you can’t get there. And it’s a Saturday and if you don’t have transportation, Oh well and if your parents knows nothing about it, you’re already in the hole and all. If you already thought you couldn’t do anything about it so you’re not great at science or math cause someone told you that then we opted, we created a problem. And so for us this is how we’ll begin to level that equity playing field. We expose them early at elementary level, letting them know an experience that yes you can be a leader in science, you could do it hands on.
You get to go outside. You don’t necessarily have to leave your school. We don’t have to transport you in grade one and grade five, which we still do because if we took away camp Schmidt, my whole community would have a heart attack. Cause this is what elementary kids live to do is this overnight environmental experience. But honest and truly they do still have an outdoor classroom experience at their elementary school that they own, that they cherish and they actually come back and help when they get to middle school and come back and help elementary school students.
Great. Thank you Monica. So Jean, let’s talk about science. So, just the sheer that tackled by on that academic integration with SEL is a key priority, as Monica described propelling us upward upward. And what Out Teach does is it coaches teachers, teachers in a way that integrates SEL and academics. So our panel specifically focused on academic integration, science, why science
So, Justina and Monica have shared a lot of, I mean I think why science, but what I’ll focus on are a couple of things. So one is that I think science is actually the opportunity now for us to do this. since 2013 to present, 84% of our students are in States that have Science standards that are based on the national research council’s framework for science learning. And so whether that’s NGSS or three dimensional learning standards, the standards are there. And so it is an incredible opportunity now for us to look for the points do integrate 21st century skills and SEL. But it’s also a tremendous shift in the way that teachers have taught science. And so I think the shift requires a lot of of attention. it’s more focused on science practice and more field based learning. So science is much more with implementation of 3d standards.
It’s much more active, it’s more collaborative, it’s more real world and it’s more student driven. So students aren’t just learning science, they’re doing science. so you know that, that’s one reason. The other thing I want to just talk about is what it looks like in a classroom. Cause I’m here to kind of bring that teacher perspective on the ground and bridge theory and practice.
So if you, you know, let me just give you an example of a weather lesson that we all know of looking at temperatures. So in a traditional classroom, we have all seen this worksheet. We’ve probably used this worksheet. We have likely done this as a student. But in learning about, temperature, there’s often the thermometer on one side and people dressed in different clothing for different seasons on the other. And students are asked to draw a line and to kind of map what’s what.
So, worksheets like this, they do not promote a peer interaction. They’re not engaging for students, they’re just something to do. They don’t facilitate any deeper learning that Justina has talked about or real engagement with the concepts. So when that standard comes to life, now when it becomes three dimensional, and especially when it moves outdoors and there’s a lot of hands on learning, we can do indoors, but move it outdoors where weather is actually happening real time. An outdoor experiential lesson like that on temperature has, you know, say the students are working together to create a class plan for a shared vegetable garden or vegetable beds. So this gives the opportunities for students now to make observations, to communicate with each other and to debate what’s gonna happen. Where are they gonna plant? What, when are they going to plan it? All of that, the research temperature, they record temperature data at different locations for different times of the day. They can identify patterns in historical data, apply past knowledge that they’ve learned about cooler in warmer areas, applied math skills, generate arguments and use evidence and data to make those arguments and work together to make responsible decisions and efforts. Some decisions they grade teachers will share or not, not good wins but let them make decisions and then they’ll learn when their plants don’t grow and they don’t work together. So it is, it is a lot of opportunity to do. And then in doing our students are developing those 21st century skills and then the SEL skills. So one other point I want to make is why outdoors. So why do people rob banks? it’s where the money is. Outdoors is where the science is and you can’t control it. It’s happening real time. So we take the students outside so they can be immersed in that setting and they can be just observing phenomenon that are occurring on a regular basis. Teachers don’t have to manufacture anything, they don’t have to stay up all night thinking about how to put together a kit. They can take students and put them again, that real world situation. It’s also more flexible. Just practically speaking, there’s more space and kids are able to move around and to work together and they’re not confined to their desk. So science teaching and learning, it actually becomes a lot easier when you move it outdoors.
So our last section is going to be back in implementation. I know that when I wrote conferences and probably the folks in the room, they want to walk away with how to use or what to use and so forth and so let me start with Justina. So how would you recommend, uh, embedding SEL and other classes as well? What do you recommend as an initial steps ?
Sure. CASEL’s been working since 2011 with a number of district partners, uh, call our collaborating districts initiative related to study how they infuse SEL systemically throughout their entire systems. So this involves STEM. It also involves all content areas as well as your central office. your other located, your school buses, your front offices, all of that. and we’ve developed, uh, based on this kind of studying these districts, a theory of action focused around four core focus areas. you, you can click through, I think the key activities next to them or, or having a pop up, you can click through all of them. But, I’ll just briefly touch on these and then tell you where you can find them all. with accompanying resources. So the four core focus areas we’ve identified is number one, that if you want to do SEL, you wanted, well, you’re going to need a foundational level of support, and a high quality, robust plan of implementation.
So what that means is I have to prepare right my entire school or district community, I have people have to know what the SEL is. They have to feel committed to it and understand where we’re going with it. and I need to align in my district or school organizationally and with my resources to be able to support this effort. Number two after I’d done that, right? One of the biggest learnings we’ve had with our districts is that this work of course is for the students and serves the students. But it’s really, really difficult to do SEL well if you have not paid attention to the social emotional learning needs of the adults in your school system. so we have an entire focus area that’s really dedicated to you, not just how you teach adults, to help his skills to implement SEL for students.
But how do you guide adults to reflect on their own social, emotional and cultural competencies? How you create a staff and work environment where adults themselves feel supported and empowered in order to support the students. And then focus area three is really about, how do you actually do this work for students, right? How are we integrating this systemically with academics? So thinking about our academic standards frameworks, how are we developing the partnerships with families and community organizations to really be able to do this well across different contexts? and what type of programs and, and lessons are we pulling in? And then lastly that this entire process is driven by continuous improvement. so am I collecting the types of data that let me know that we’re on the right track and leaning towards student outcomes that we’re trending towards. So where are these mine, all this and the resources to support it. We have a released kind of a number of free resources at CASEL. One is the district resource center and I’m sorry the links not on there, but it’s drc. CASEL.org and it’s a set of resources that we’ve collected across lots of different districts across the country, aligned to the focus areas and the key activities and really support you in implementing and doing this work. Uh, we’ve also been collaborating with AASA to release, a district-wide, uh, SEL essentials tore kit for superintendents that’s newly released at this conference. You’ll find them in, sessions related to SEL, including this afternoon, uh, is session in room one B at three 45. If you want to learn all about this tool kit hosted by my friend Rob, who’s sitting in the audience over there. as well as, we also have a CASEL guide, school wide SEL and a program guide that helps you in selecting a SEL programming. So all of that’s on our website and casel.org.
Great. Thank you so much. Monica. Similar question. What has been your biggest takeaway from your efforts to integrate, uh, these skill development programs, especially outdoors and what’s worked best and what were you most impressed by?
Dr. Monica Goldson
Our biggest takeaway was that you’ve got to make an investment in your teaching force. That’s where the core of your work is. And for my school district, we had five superintendents in 10 years. And so turnover was big. And so for us to honest and truly talk about an initiative in our teacher’s minds, man, okay, this too shall pass. So when we make an investment are the core of our work truly is. And that’s in our teachers and supporting them and next generation science standards and being able to take lessons that they can utilize this still meet those common core standards, had their students experience, experiencial learning as low as beginning to tackle the competencies for social emotional learning. We’re able to get the most bang out of our buck and so I would say to you as you begin to identify dollars to make that investment in your professional development teaching force.
The other thing I will say is we got the biggest bang for our buck is honest and truly lock ourselves in a room and have an honest conversation with each other about where we were. We pulled out every piece of data we could find as it related to science, mathematics, and exposure to engineering programs for our students, what they look like, who they were at what age, and we begin to just have true, honest conversations about where the gaps existed and for us that helped us to lay out a map of what we need to do. Are we there yet? We’re nowhere close. We still, as I said, I have 206 schools. And so in an amazing vision of what I foresee, every school students would have those types of experiences and exposures to STEM that we talked about and having the ability to execute real problem solving leadership skills, justifying their reasoning and rationale for making a decision in their everyday learning experience, not only in science and mathematics, but in every course they experience will becomes part of who they are every day.
And then the competencies for social emotional learning is what our kids experience. And so create that game plan of what that looks like and then put a timeframe on it. we have it on chart paper is in our executive leadership team room. it’s intentional that posted there. We strike through what we’re able to accomplish in my leadership team meetings that I have every Tuesday, every three weeks we circle back to where are we on executing that plan. because in a district that large, we can get caught up on so many other things that we lose of one of the many things that we’re trying to accomplish.
And Jeanne, what’s, what do school leaders need to invest in in order to make these shifts? And if they had to prioritize one thing, what should be that priority?
So if I’m sure I’m going to share three. Okay. So one and you know, just to piggyback on Monica, it is professional learning for teachers. They are your multiplier. If you invest in the right kind of professional learning for them, you will also reduce that teacher turnover. You’ll increase their jobs satisfaction. But when you look at professional learning, make sure that it’s, it’s high quality and it also has, you know, three components that we think are important . So one and it’s ongoing and job in bed. We all know that no profession can grow in its workforce with one and done sessions. So job embedded is really critical for success. And this is a big shift teachers have to make. I mean this is going from teaching knowledge to also science practice is big and so they need support to do it. Relevant, you know, make sure it’s relevant to their day to day, not just kind of the bigger picture that we’re aiming for, but it’s relevant to their day to day frameworks that they’re teaching and what they’re held accountable for.
And I also think, you know, we talked about adult learning and how important it is for teachers to grow their own social emotional learning skills. I also think it’s important for teachers to be, in professional learning programs that honor best practices. So we’re sitting here talking about experiential learning for kids. Let’s make sure our teachers also get that, and then they also were learning in an environment that’s supportive. So coaches provide feedback, but the feedback is for growth and it’s not anything that is not punitive for them. And then the other, other thing I’ve learned recommend and all of all of the professional learning I think about how you use your title funds. So this is doable and you have funding for it. the other is that just as you would invest in any other instructional materials or tools, invest in outdoor learning tools.
So just some very simple things could be simple weather stations. I don’t think these need to be fancy. I think the simpler the better actually. You erosion tables, vegetable beds, water features, simple outdoor seating and whiteboards that things that will draw your teachers outdoors and help them feel comfortable.
And then the third thing that I just want to add is that we also have to give teachers the, the permission to teach science. So our research tells us that on average across the United States, elementary students are getting 18 minutes of science a day because we’re focused on math and ELA, which is great. But let’s also broaden what we’re asking our teachers to do and build it into kind of whatever their performance standards are. Because science is where we can do all of this. Science is what Hank also talked about our business community and is looking for. So somehow our schools, we’ve got to bridge that gap. So invest in science. We can make it all kind of come together.
Thank you so much to the teaching team at Marilyn Miller Elementary for hosting our training session. In case anyone missed it, here’s our own Sammy Wren sharing all of the handheld classroom tools he uses to keep students engaged and learning outdoors.