Many schools around the United States will be having teacher’s convention soon and a lot of educators want more information on how to make learning fun. The Atlantic City public schools are taking teaching fun very seriously. Thousands of teachers flock to the Convention Center to learn more about how to make learning both relevant and interesting.
The convention returned to the city after being canceled last year due to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey Education Association spokesman Steve Baker said he did not have specific attendance numbers.Since teachers had both registered online and in person.
But he said it reminded him of the 2000 conference that attracted a record 55,000 teachers on its first day. Typically about 40,000 New Jersey teachers attend the two-day event.
Underscoring all sessions was the growing issue of teacher evaluations, and how to effectively monitor how well a teacher is teaching and link it to how well a student learns. This is the first year all districts are using new state-mandated evaluations, and implementation has been bumpy and time-consuming.
The conference devoted several sessions to evaluation models used in New Jersey. Former educator Charlotte Danielson, of the Princeton-based Danielson model, packed a large conference room as she talked about the need for effective evaluations.
She defended her model’s position that teachers are rarely great all the time, saying part of the problem of past evaluation systems is that almost all teachers were rated effective all the time.
“Teaching is so hard that it is never perfect,” she said. “I don’t say that because I think teaching is of poor quality. I think good teaching is a lifelong quest. Being proficient is good. But we should always strive to be better.”
She earned applause when she said that those doing the evaluations should also be trained and certified, and she said she cares most about what the children are doing and how they are being challenged.
“How can we engage them in a way that gets them to the learning outcomes we want?” she asked, noting a child will spend hours learning to skateboard but claim to be bored in school.
“We need to make teaching more like skateboarding,” she said. “We teach like it’s work. We should teach like it’s fun.”
Down in the exhibit hall, hundreds of exhibitors attempted to show how teaching can be fun. The High Tech Hall featured the latest in electronics, including NAO from Teq, a doll-sized robot built to be programmed by students.
Developed for use in research, the robot is making its way into schools, including in Randolph, Morris County, and at the Warren County Special Services School, Teq sales staff said.
The robot enchanted students at the conference, dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The $16,000 robot uses Python programming language and arrives basically as a blank slate. Students learn how to program it.
Cathryn Weiss, of West Milford, Passaic County, said she is always looking for ways to get students involved, but she was a bit blown away by the cost of the robot.
Egg Harbor Township teacher Lynne Kesselman said there is a big STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative in the district, and programming robots could be part of that. She said her concern would be how well students would behave with the expensive equipment.