It’s summer and students all across the country are headed off to summer camps where they will learn, make new friends and create lasting memories. But what about teachers? Where can they go to connect with each other, learn new techniques and find new ways to create classrooms where curiosity, creativity and critical thinking thrive? According to Terra Tarango, Van Andel Education Institute’s director and education officer, the perfect place for this to happen is right here in Grand Rapids at Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI).
On July 16-17, 2018, more than 130 educators, school administrators and educational specialists visited VAEI for the inaugural Science on the Grand Conference. Tarango and her team designed the conference to honor the work of teachers and provide them with the opportunity to gain practical, purposeful strategies to incorporate inquiry-based instruction into their teaching.
“During this event we literally and figuratively roll out the red carpet for teachers,” Tarango said. “We want teachers to be inspired by world-class speakers as well as empowered with classroom-proven strategies and lessons to create extraordinary classrooms. But more than that, we want them to feel honored and appreciated for the extraordinary work they do.”
Tarango is optimistic that the conference will serve as a way for teachers and administrators to become familiarized with both the Institute and its mission that focuses prominently on inquiry-based instruction.
“This conference is a good way for educators to get to know us at VAEI and metaphorically kick the tires a little,” Tarango said. “To make meaningful transformations in instruction, we often work with teachers over a 2 or 3-year period, so this conference lets teachers learn what we’re about, and see if VAEI is a good fit for their continued professional development.”
The two-day conference was divided into two sections – day one focusing on classroom culture and day two focusing on practical, inquiry-based lessons and STEAM content. Tarango views the conference structure as a reflection of VAEI’s framework that emphasizes both the classroom learning environment and content-area knowledge.
“I think the conference is a perfect forum for reminding teachers why they entered this noble profession and inspiring them to continually grow and improve their craft,” she said. “I have heard from many teachers who were frustrated with teaching, tempted to leave education altogether, and then heard an inspiring speaker or learned an innovative strategy, and just like that, they are recommitted to their students and all the promise of this remarkable profession.”
Lori Corley, principal of Springfield Elementary in Greenwood, South Carolina, traveled thousands of miles to attend the conference along with two science teachers from her school. Corley was introduced to the Institute while attending the National Science Teachers Association Conference where she met VAEI education specialists and learned about the Institute’s science education and professional development programs.
“After meeting representatives from the Institute, I recognized that the beliefs that go into VAEI’s education philosophy are very similar to the beliefs that I hold as a principal,” she said.
While at the conference, Corley and members of her team went on a tour of an Institute lab, met with scientists, participated in breakout sessions, heard inspirational speakers and interacted with teachers where they discovered new ways to view science education and new insights into their profession.
“One of the takeaways I received from the conference is the importance of teaching students to think and act like scientists,” Corley said. “We want to let students know that if you think like a scientist in the classroom, there is no reason why you can’t be one in the future. I think that understanding is really important.”
For information on VAEI’s education programs and events, visit vaei.vai.org.