I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I helped staff the Science on the Grand conference this year. Unlike most members of the Van Andel Education Institute, I don’t have a background in teaching. I was an English major in college, and my post-university life consisted mainly of writing in cubicles or quiet libraries. As you might expect, this made my transition into education a little crazy. There was so much I didn’t know, didn’t understand, or had completely taken for granted.

Still, being a novice has its advantages. The event was as much an adventure for me as it was for the attendees. As a new educator I was able to explore the conference with a fresh set of eyes, interact with experienced teachers, and discover new methods for igniting creative and critical thinking in students. There are many things about the conference I wish I could discuss, but for the sake of brevity, I’ve limited my observations to five specific details.

Here are five reflections from 2019’s Science on the Grand,

Networking with Like-Minded Educators

One of the best features of any conference is the ability to network. Whether you’re looking for professional contacts, or simply want to meet someone else who shares your interests, conferences are a great way to make lasting connections. Science on the Grand was no exception. Getting to meet so many dynamic educators was a great opportunity to grow, share advice, and discover the latest tools in project-based learning. Even the presenters were happy to learn from others and test new strategies. You couldn’t have asked to be part of a better gathering.

Exploring STEAM Integration

STEAM integration can be difficult, but if there’s one group that’s up to the task, it’s a band of teachers. Science on the Grand gave STEAM the attention it deserved. Whether it was through workshops like, “Teaching Coding for Teachers Who Aren’t Coders”, or learning how card games could can be used in social studies, the conference offered a multitude of ideas for the coming school year. It’s never too late to explore the resources at your own fingertips (plus, there’s always Blue Apple!)

Always Keep Growing

What’s the point of attending an educational conference if you don’t learn something new? For my part, I walked away from Science on the Grand with a wealth of information I can’t wait to implement. I discovered an effective method for making gliders out of everyday trash. I learned how to avoid the common pitfalls of group projects, and even how wind turbines can reshape a community. The only downside was I could only make a few sessions. A good educator is always on the lookout for a chance to grow!

Developing Project-Based Learning

As VAEI’s Terra Tarango likes to say, “Teachers are no longer responsible for dispensing information in the classroom. Google can do that far better. The job of a teacher is to create authentic learning experiences which develop students’ curiosity, creativity, and critical-thinking skills.” Science on the Grand proved the validity of this statement. Several presenters (including a few from VAEI itself) demonstrated how project-based learning not only gets participants invested in a class, it can also blend subjects into a single cohesive lesson. If we’re to adapt to the changing landscape of education, project-based learning is the key to success.         

Have Fun!

Personal growth is important, but so is having fun. The summer months can be a daunting time for teachers, and it’s imperative to grab moments of enjoyment when they appear. Whether it was chatting over a delicious lunch, touring the city of Grand Rapids, or enjoying suggestions from the Pitch Tank over drinks, Science on the Grand allowed guests time to cut lose, and for that I’m grateful. I may have been a staff member, but I learned a lot from this experience, and I had fun doing it. I can only hope our attendees felt the same.

Thank you for visiting with us. We hope you enjoy your summer and look forward to seeing you all again next year!