Inquiry conference features Penn State students in Professional Development School program
About 80 student teachers in the College of Education’s Professional Development School program presented their classroom research at a teacher inquiry conference Saturday, April 25, at Mount Nittany Middle School in State College.
The conference was the 17th annual event that celebrates the full-year, collaborative teaching program between Penn State and the State College Area School District.
Students used 25-minute sessions to explain their research topic and cite examples of its success and the inquiry used to achieve that goal to their classroom mentors, family and friends.
“The importance of today is that it’s a celebration of the excellent, rich work that the students have done throughout the entire year,’’ said Raeann Horgas, a secondary English mentor at State College Area High School who will be one of the professional development associates at the secondary level during the next academic year.
“This is kind of their capstone of their experience. I think it’s an excellent professional opportunity for them to be able to present their classroom research to a wider audience and get feedback on that and also for the school community and Penn State community to be able to see the great work and preparation these students have done.’’
Topics were wide-ranging. Titles of some of the 74 classroom presentations included “Breaking it Down to Build It Up: Exploring Empathy in the English Classroom’’; “Glowing and Growing: The Role of Reflection and Self-Evaluation in the English Classroom’’; “Energetic Engagement: Finding Ways to Channel Student Energy’’; and “Contracting Ownership: Shifting Students’ Perceptions of Writing.’’
Emily Mowery of State College, a childhood and early adolescent education major who has accepted a teaching job near Raleigh, North Carolina, researched “The Communication Triad: Teachers, Parents and Students.’’ She showed a brief video that featured a first-grade girl explaining in detail a classroom topic to her parents.
Her parents said at the beginning of the year that their daughter’s answers to their questions about her day consisted of just a few words, but cited how much more communicative she became as the year progressed. Mowery had her students write journals, created a survey for her students’ parents and authored a classroom newsletter. Parents responded that communication was extremely important.
“It’s so exciting to be able to share something that you are passionate about as well as hear from so many other people that you know so closely and hear what they are passionate about and get so many ideas for the future, too,’’ Mowery said.
Mowery, part of the PDS program that enables student teachers to be in the classroom from mid-August to mid-June, spent the year teaching first grade at Gray’s Woods Elementary School in nearby Port Matilda with mentor Colleen Sheehan.
“It’s amazing. I really can’t imagine doing my job without having an intern,’’ Sheehan said. “It’s such a collaborative approach. The university is involved, the school district and, of course the most important are the students in the classroom.
“Being involved in it for 10 or 12 years, I feel like I grow every year as a professional. It’s really helped me because I’m working with interns who are getting the new trends that are happening in education, so they’re coming into my room and I’m learning from them. It’s kind of a two-way street. The interns learn from us, but then we learn so much from them.’’
Lisa DiLorenzo, like Mowery a childhood and early adolescent education major, offered “Catching Character: How to Teach Character Strengths to Children’’ as her research topic. She has been in a second-grade classroom at Gray’s Woods.
She said the yearlong PDS program has prepared her well for future classrooms. “When I went to the career fair I never felt more prepared for anything in my life,’’ DiLorenzo said. “I felt like the PDS applicants were standouts among the crowd, and it was really impressive to see what we could do. I felt completely prepared to walk in there.’’
Preparation is the goal of the program, according to Penn State College of Education professors of education Jim Nolan and Jamie Myers, who are in charge of the PDS elementary and secondary English programs, respectively.
“We think about how to try to help our students become really good problem-solvers and look at their practice,’’ Nolan said. “We try to equip them with a set of skills and attitudes that say whenever there’s a problem, I know how to start to attack it.’’
And Myers’ perspective of the PDS program on inquiry day centered around inquiry. “If you need to have a syllabus that tells you what to read and what to write on these dates, then this program is not for you,’’ he said. “This is one in which you have to take charge of your own learning, you have to notice things in your classroom, you have to take risks.
“The program’s built around (the students’) inquiries in their own classroom with their own students and making their own students’ experience better.’’
By Jim Carlson (April 2015)