08/08/13 — Annual workshop teaches teachers to engage students

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Annual workshop teaches teachers to engage students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 8, 2013 1:46 PM

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Teachers listen to the keynote speaker during the Wayne County Public Schools Summer Institute at Mount Olive College.

MOUNT OLIVE -- If Dr. Sam Houston had his way, every teacher would post a sign with the motto, "If I can't make you understand how you're going to use this information in the real world, you don't need to learn it."

There is a difference, he explained, between "need to know" and "nice to know."

"If you taught everything in the standard course of study, we would have to be here 20 years. Thirteen years (of school) wouldn't even come close to it," said Houston, the keynote speaker at Tuesday's opening session of Wayne County Public Schools' Summer Institute, held at Mount Olive College.

This year's theme is STEM, which typically stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Houston, N.C. STEM Leader, CEO and president of the N.C. Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center, said the Center has copyrighted another version of the acronym -- "Strategies That Engage Minds."

He suggested the concept of STEM is "the best excuse to change our schools."

"It's been said that the problem with our schools is not that they're not what they used to be; it's that they are what they used to be," he said. "We need to be thinking about how kids are going to use information in the real world, not how they're going to use it in school."

In a "STEM world," he explained, students are not engaged by sitting still and being taught. They need to feel a connection to what they are learning.

"We worry about kids being successful in school. We need to worry about them being successful when they get out of school," Houston said. "STEM is the route. Strategies that engage minds, fueled by content, information that kids are going to use in the real world."

To ensure students are career and college ready when they graduate, he said, can be boiled down to three things -- helping them become independent, being thoughtful and not thoughtless, and helping them know what to do when they don't know what to do. The concepts can be taught from kindergarten up through 12th grade, he noted.

This is the eighth year for the conference for teachers as well as parents. First-, second- and third-year teachers are required to attend the staff development training, while many veteran educators also reap the benefits of the workshops.

Jane Sasser, media coordinator at Brogden Middle School, said she especially enjoys the sessions on technology.

In her five years employed by the district, she said, "I have been every year. It just kind of gives you an idea of the new stuff."

Sonja DeBoise, a third-grade teacher at Eastern Wayne Elementary, is entering her second year in the profession. She also attended last year.

"The classes, things that I learned, I used in the classroom," she said.

Anna Gurganus is preparing for her first year teaching science to fifth-graders at Brogden Middle School.

"I'm excited. I want to learn about all of the STEM," she said. "The principal that I'm going to be working with, Mr. (Sylvester) Townsend, he's really excited about STEM.

"I want to learn all I can and that way I'm the best teacher I can be."

The three-day event, which runs through today, is an opportunity for educators to learn new strategies and best practices that can be applied in the classroom, said Dr. Steve Taylor, county schools superintendent.

"We started (Summer Institute) eight years ago because we wanted to particularly hit our beginning teachers but then opened it up to all our teachers," he told the audience. "Like any other workshop or conference, you're going to get out of it what you put into it."

The breakout sessions, many presented by educators and staff from WCPS, covered an array of topics -- from teaching content areas to classroom management and making the most of the school's website, to depression and assisting students with self-esteem.

Dr. Dwight Cannon, school board member, did a word play with the event's theme, encouraging the teachers to go beyond "STEM" and remember branches and roots.

"No matter where we focus on curriculum, I contend that we need the branch of reading, writing and arithmetic. We need the basics," he said. "And let us remember that none of these things can grow without roots. We're here to be the root to your career on teaching."