The M.Ed. Teacher LEadership: Special Studies in STEM Education, a partnership program between the University of Maryland and Montgomery County Public Schools, kicked off Tuesday evening with EDCI 614: Developing a Professional Portfolio. This course will serve as the foundation for the creation of a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for teaching and learning in STEM education. Each teacher in the program will establish an electronic portfolio in the form of a professional website/blog and maintain it throughout the program. The portfolio will serve as a PLN tool to help shape each teacher’s evolving knowledge, beliefs, and perspectives. It will be a collection of materials to highlight and illustrate teachers’ professional knowledge (content and pedagogical content), skills, and values and will be designed to represent a diverse and unique description of them as leaders in STEM education.
Twenty-three teachers from grades kindergarten through eighth grade attended the first class (one teacher, on maternity leave, was able to virtually attend via Skype!). We began with introductions, a brief history of the development of the program, and a review of the syllabus.
Who we are:
The focus of this first session was breaking down and making sense of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). The teachers have been tasked with working in groups to create Prezi presentations to share information about what PLNs are, how they are used, the advantages and drawbacks of them, and the potential impact of PLNs on teacher professional development.
Aside from the introduction in the first reading, Professional Learning Networks Taking Off (Flanigan, 2012), the teachers seemed to be relatively unfamiliar with the term. The group was accustomed, however, with Professional Learning Communities, and thus a portion of the conversations centered on examining the word, “Network,” to help make sense of PLNs. The word,”community,” implies affiliation and collaboration, however several teachers noted that “network” goes even further and implies the use of technology while emphasizing the exchange of information.
I also asked the teachers to discuss tools and resources available for use in PLNs. Twitter was a popular topic, as well as Pinterest, which teachers shared they use to get ideas for classroom activities. One teacher shared that she uses LiveBinders to organize materials and create activity centers for her students. I’m looking forward to exploring these and other tools, particularly those that inform and enhance pedagogies as well as activities, as the semester continues.
The group seemed to agree that advantages of PLNs would include the extended ability to access information on one’s own time and an increased amount and variety of information. The most notable drawback, according to the teachers, is the ‘time-suck’ potential. In other words, the likelihood that a disproportionate amount of teachers’ time would be spent browsing the internet rather than productively using the information gained.
Professional blogs will be a key component of the PLN the teachers in this program and we devoted the second half of class to discussing the ins and outs of personal websites. Jason Yip, a doctoral candidate in science education at the University of Maryland who is affiliated with the Human-Computer Interaction Lab, joined us to talk about options, pros and cons.
The teachers in our program are encouraged to use the platform of their choice for their blogs. We’ve suggested WordPress, Blogger, and Edublogs, but there are many more options out there. The teachers have been asked to browse these and other platforms and set up their blogs before next Tuesday’s class.
Next week we will dive into discussions about visions of and for STEM education, including the impact of federal and local education policy on the STEM disciplines. Stay tuned…..