Fun In Colorado Springs
While the blog has fallen into a woefully predictable state reflective of the summer month priorities, I did think it would be a good idea to spend some time talking about what I spent the last week doing out in Colorado at BSCS headquarters.
If this rings a synaptic bell, it might be due to my well publicized (by my standards, at least) crowd funding project by which I raised the major amount of the funds needed to attend. Since that was more successful than I could have hoped, I found myself on a plane to the Southern-middle of the country last Sunday, equipped with little more than a computer, enough fresh clothing, and a passing knowledge of certain aspects of Colorado Springs cultural phenomena.
BSCS is not a major science-education presence in New York, but they are well-known to folks who know about these things, and they have a stellar reputation. And I have to say that their reputation is well deserved. Before I get too deep in to the scope and scale of what I participated in, I'll spend a few words on the quality of the facilitation that I saw on display. Without a doubt, our two BSCS facilitators put on the best professional development experience that I have ever seen. Frankly, the folks at BSCS could just export how to do that to the variety of professional developers that dwell in education realms, and they would be doing the field a tremendous favor.
This was year 2 of the “AP Biology Leadership Academy”. I had thought about going last year, but life intruded, and it didn't seem appropriate. Given the proximity of my ear to the AP Biology ground, I knew enough from last year's participants to know that this would be a worthwhile experience, but I do have to commend my cohort 1 colleagues on keeping the nuts and bolts of the specific activities that would be on offer largely to themselves. Before I arrived, I had some nebulous understanding of what I would be doing, but nothing more tangible than that.
The sessions began Sunday evening and ran through Friday afternoon. It would be folly for me to try to delineate it all here, but I'll note some of the major highlights (forgive me for what I will unavoidably omit below):
- Extensive discussion, dissection, and dwelling within the new AP Biology Curriculum- I would like to think that I have a pretty good grounding in the changes that have occurred in the AP Biology curriculum during the past few years. But it never hurts to revisit whatever understandings one might think that one has to see how they have held up over time. And this was certainly on offer this week. It was reassuring to know that my understanding of the course did not stray too far away from that of the facilitators, or my 30-odd colleagues who were at the Academy, and it was also nice to have the opportunity to spend large tracts of time working to continue the iterative process of getting familiar with the course.
- Work on teaching science- Against the backdrop of the new AP Biology curriculum, a lot of time was spent working to develop skills related to teaching science more generally. This included work on developing student abilities to generate scientific explanations (making claims, rooted in data, and demonstrating logically consistent reasoning), along with ways to increase narrative flow when planning curricula. It was nice to be able to spend time on this type of stuff (and arguably more useful for me than item #1), as it is not really something that I have focused on since I started teaching students science. The ability to use the structures that we worked with across all of my courses is something that I am very interested in doing starting immediately.
- Meeting Great Teachers- I knew some of the folks who were at the Academy from my prior meanderings through AP Biology land, but I hadn't met very many folks in physical space at all. As is always the case when I go to things like this, I come away very impressed with the skill and ability of my fellow teachers. Folks are doing amazing things in circumstances much less conducive than the one that I am fortunate to work in.
- The Rocky Mountains- I had never previously spent any time among the “real mountains” of the American West. Damn, they are impressive. So impressive as to minimize the less impressive sprawling character of Colorado Springs specifically, which might well be the least pedestrian friendly city that I have ever seen. Fortunately, the work at BSCS kept me so busy as to minimize any bummers from being in the midst of suburbia.
These are my major impressions. I know that the work that I do after this experience is informed by the work that we did this week. This was a really great experience, that will impact my teaching for years to come. I am glad to have been able to be a part of the AP Biology Leadership Academy, and I hope to continue the work that started this week. Major thanks to all who helped me to attend!