After I published two blog posts about the poor job that Florida is doing preparing high school students for college STEM majors – and that were really pessimistic bummers – Ryan Haczynski (author of the Teacher Voice blog who tweets on @1TeacherVoice) reminded me via tweet that we can find hope in seeing Florida students and educators do extraordinary things when they have the opportunity to do so. His tweet reminded me to draw encouragement from the students and educators I had the privilege of working with this summer on several projects.
The teacher workshop on using dance to invite students into the study of physics that was held at Florida State University’s Panama City campus on June 21-22 and in which I played a small organizational role was an amazingly uplifting experience for me (and I hope for the teachers and instructors, too). Speaking of privilege: It was an extraordinary privilege to work with Bozeman School science teacher Denise Newsome (who was the inspiration for the workshop), FSU-PC STEM Institute Director and Bay County School Board member Ginger Littleton, and Santa Clara University professors David Popalisky (Dance and Theater) and Rich Barber (Physics) on the workshop. And from FSU-PC comes word that the workshop will expand into a series of Saturdays to be held during the school year, which is wonderful news.
A few weeks later, I spent another week at FSU-PC for the Nuclear Medicine and Science Camp, which was led by Rutherford High School math and physics teacher Rachel Morris. When I talk about Rachel, I have the (perhaps unfortunate) habit of starting by noting her almost mystical charisma in a classroom. So let me say this right up front: Rachel is really, really smart. She taught the quark unit during the week, not me.
But of course, the camp was primarily about the campers, who will be in middle and high schools when the school year starts in a few weeks. They were an extraordinary group this year, as last year’s inaugural campers were. The camp is paid for by a grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration in the US Department of Energy through the CENTAUR consortium, which has its mother ship at Texas A&M University. The consortium’s reviewers and leadership will be hearing from Rachel and our students directly in a few weeks, and they will be very impressed.
A few weeks after the nuclear camp, I traveled to Bartow to participate in a round table discussion for the Polk County School Board. It was an honor to be invited to the meeting and a pleasure to meet the board members who attended – including Billy Townsend, who organized the session and invited me and my sometimes-co-conspirator Adam LaMee (UCF Physics Teacher-in-Residence). But the most inspiring part of the experience was meeting several Polk County teachers who attended the meeting, including high school chemistry teacher Casey Dodge. They seemed particularly energized by the opportunity to address the board members who attended, and as my own energy started to flag late in the two hour and forty minute session, I drew energy from the teachers – as I find I often do.
I’ll conclude by sharing about an experience that occurred early in June before any of these others – and that perhaps provided me with the encouragement and energy for everything that came afterward. On June 11, I joined a group of students from five of Orange County’s most challenged middle schools for a presentation before the district’s school board. These kids, who had traveled to FSU for tours of the College of Medicine and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory that I helped organize, were amazingly impressive as they shared about the experience with the board members. That field trip was one of several OCPS events I was privileged (that word again) to participate in during the 2018-19 school year that we hope will inspire students and their parents to prepare well in high school for college majors in fields like engineering, the physical sciences, computing and the life sciences.
To top the June 11 school board meeting off, I was recognized for my modest contributions to the OCPS efforts. In addition to the honor of working with the students (a few of whom you can see below addressing the school board), I get to soak up energy and encouragement from the district staff I work with in Orange County – who are also pictured below.
So Ryan, thank you for reminding me what a remarkably energized and blessed summer I’ve had. Your K-12 colleagues around the state are extraordinary individuals – and they are much, much better than we all deserve.