While Albemarle County Public Schools students slept in Monday, their teachers packed Monticello High School for a full day of learning.
The 11th Making Connections Conference offered ACPS staff the opportunity to share ideas that can be incorporated into classroom instruction.
“We’ve got a lot of teachers who are interested in sharing what they’re doing in their classrooms with their kids, which is great,” said Becky Fisher, Albemarle’s director of educational technology and professional development. “A lot of great things come out of that, and what we hope is that teachers take a look at what they’re doing and do something differently.”
Fisher also said that many teachers attend sessions that paint a picture of their students’ futures.
“You might be a 5th grade teacher going to a middle school session on writing, and all of a sudden you understand what the next steps are,” Fisher said.
Throughout the day, County staff could choose from over 160 sessions that included topics from filmmaking and digital photography, to new assessments and Advanced Placement teaching.
During a session on Advanced Placement teaching, Rolph Mann, an AP teacher at Monticello High School, promoted active learning in a curriculum that is largely lecture-based.
“The things that students read to learn they will forget,” Mann said. “But the things that they write or hear or speak to one another…will be put into long-term memory.”
Mann, who taught college for 10 years before returning to high school—where he has spent the last 15 years—uses a set of cards to blend lecture with discussion. Each of Mann’s cards have a student’s name on them, and during his classes he draws cards at random and asks a question to whoever’s card he pulls.
“For me they’re impersonal, it’s lady luck, but it keeps them engaged,” Mann said. “And the students love it in a way. They aren’t always glad to be called on, but at the end of the year, they are always glad I used the cards.”
Andrea Rowanhill, an Advanced Placement physics teacher at Monticello, said she can incorporate the technique of throwing a soft ball to students when she calls on them.
Sarah Bailey, a student teacher from the Curry School of Education, said she’s learned that engaging the quiet students is very important.
“They have to articulate themselves well because college is going to be largely discussion-based,” Bailey said.
The day also presented opportunities for teachers to be students. Gabrielle Shoppa, a career and technical education teacher at Burley Middle School, taught teachers how to make circuits, and then sew them into a piece of fabric.
“We’re combining art and science,” Shoppa said.
Eric Bredder, who teaches at Sutherland Middle School, said career and technical education classes represent the overlap of all subjects.
“It’s the real problem versus the hypothetical problem,” Bredder said. “I learned 17 things today because I did them all wrong, but I learned never to do them again.”
Currently, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center is executing a strategic plan that would more closely align the school with Piedmont Virginia Community College.
During the planning process, many have found the public perception of vocational training to be looked down upon.
Rob Dent, who teaches at Jack Jouett Middle School, disagreed.
“I’ve talked to employers and academics, and they say that there’s a big difference between students who have a top-notch education and no experience working with their hands, and students with that education and experience working with their hands,” Dent said.
“Whether you go to college or not,” Dent added, “there are a lot of educated people out there, so you have to do something to differentiate yourself.”
Jon Barber, a CTE teacher at Walton Middle School, agreed.
“College used to be the end game, but now it’s not,” Barber said. “It’s coming out with actual skills.”
One skill that Baker-Butler Elementary School principal Steve Saunders tried to impart to teachers was how to impact a student’s mindset.
What a person believes about themselves, Saunders said, plays a large role in how they perform.
“Kids who see themselves as bad at math are less likely to go for help in math,” Saunders said, noting that not all students see effort connected to success.
To help students see this, Saunders told teachers to encourage students to look at themselves through a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.
“Teachers can influence kids,” Saunders said. “If I tell someone who sees himself as a bad writer that they’ve done a nice job with process, that they’ve supported their claims well, they are more likely to react.”
Fisher said that staff can attend smaller professional development events throughout the year.
Saunders said the events are invaluable.
“We have days like this to learn about becoming better teachers and improving our practice,” Saunders said.