Professional Development Matters: Reflections on Why Every Science Teacher Should Have the Opportunity to Attend CAST
By Dr. Casey Creghan
Assistant Professor, Sam Houston State University
and Dr. Kathy Adair Creghan
Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Humble ISD
When I became a science teacher, to say that I was an “ichthyologist out of water” would be an understatement. Back in the day, there were no mandated standards and our campus did not even have a scope and sequence for my science classes. We taught what we wanted to teach, and did so when and how we chose to do so. While that may sound less stressful than today’s over-assessed and monitored classrooms, there was a lack of focus on specific priorities and student achievement.
As a young teacher, I was fortunate to have a great team and department to back me up, provide support, and guide me as I negotiated the pitfalls of teaching biology. As I struggled through that first year, our science team was sent to a conference called CAST. I don’t remember too many details about that first conference, but I do remember the time spent collaborating with my team to set up a plan for our department. Without my team, I would have never survived the year.
Today I work for a university, teaching instructional methods to preservice teachers, including young science teachers. As I think about my science students, I wonder how they are going to be supported in their professional growth and practice? While larger districts are able to tailor professional development sessions to the specific needs, grade levels, and content areas; smaller districts have very limited options available to support their teachers’ professional growth.
One of the most amazing benefits of attending a CAST conference is the variety of experiences that are available to both new and experienced attendees. Teachers can choose from short session workshops, large scale “Jam Sessions,” in-depth short courses, and even field trips to local science-related events and locations. This year, teachers were treated to an evening at the Ross Perot Museum of Nature and Science held especially for them. And these events don’t include the social events and receptions or the exhibitor booths by the dozens. The awards reception hosted The Emerald City Band who absolutely rocked the place. It was great to see so many science geeks pretend to try to dance!
One would be hard-pressed to find any larger forum for the sharing of content ideas, offers of assistance from science-related organizations, instructional strategies, technological innovations, and just cool materials and equipment…all related to the teaching of science! Where else can you find 10 sessions exploring different ways get kids to understand space or lunar concepts or 13 sessions focused just on inquiry?
Some of my favorite reflections from this year’s conference are the bits and pieces I picked up from conversations in hallways, the hotel lobby, and in the exhibits area. Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s conference:
•Even though dozens and dozens of sessions are offered, there are always a few sessions that are filled beyond capacity. I was introduced to the idea of “Skip One to Get One,” where some highly motivated teachers sat in an empty room for an hour so that they would have a prime seat for the next session being offered at that location.
•I witnessed teachers sitting on the floor, sticking their heads inside the doorframe of a session trying to hear the information being shared.
•One young lady sitting on the floor, outside a session in the hallway, was using Face Time on her phone with a colleague inside the room where the presentation was filled to capacity. This is clear evidence of a desire to learn and grow!
•I learned that a $4 hamburger I had on the drive to the conference is just as filling as the $16 hamburger at the hotel.
•I learned that science teachers are geeks; who are warm and welcoming and include both young and old in their conversations and their quest for information.
•I learned that since budgets have been slashed across the state, science folks will do just about anything to learn about a product that is free for us.
•Thousands of teachers attend all three days of the conference, but beyond that, I noticed a large number of teachers who arrived on Saturday. They were there on their own personal time because they could not attend due to other commitments (like teaching).
All in all, it was a great conference this year…just as each conference is year after year. As I sat in one of my last sessions, I remembered a story that one of my former teammates had shared with us. It was about a young kindergarten student I think was named Sharon.
Sharon was playing in the living room of her house waiting for a home visit from her very first teacher. She was about to enter school for the first time and could not wait to go to “big school.” As she played with her toys on the living room carpet, she looked up at her mom and asked, “Is she here yet?” “No,” came the reply from her mother, “but she will be here before long.” Hesitantly Sharon went back to playing with her toys. In a few minutes she repeated the question, “Is she here yet?” “No, Sharon, but she will be here soon,” came the patient voice from mom.
Finally, Sharon heard a car door slam shut, and she quickly climbed on the back of the couch to gaze out the window. Through the venetian blinds, she peered out to the front of the house. A very “experienced” teacher was slowly making her way up the sidewalk to the house. The teacher had on a well-worn dress, a tattered shawl, and what could only be described as “granny hose.” The girl watched the teacher lift her cane to help navigate the steps. Then Sharon uttered these words, “Mom, isn’t she beautiful?”
As I gazed around the sessions and saw all the ages, shapes, and sizes of the attendees at CAST I couldn’t help but think the same thought. “Yes Sharon, they are beautiful; they are science teachers.”
I hope that as campus and district administrators search for ways to provide pedagogical and content-based professional development for their science faculty, they discover the array of positive experiences that can come from supporting their teachers in attending CAST. The many available strands make this conference one of the best possible ways to provide professional development for specific science teaching areas. Whether Chemistry, Physics, Biology, elementary, middle school, or whatever content is required, the conference has something of quality to offer. Year after year, hundreds of teachers leave CAST armed with innovative teaching practices, accurate content information, and renewed energy to tackle whatever challenges await them in their classrooms.