Skip to main content

ORAU K-12 goes virtual: Setting teachers up for success with remote professional development

As the new school year fast approaches and the coronavirus appears to be strengthening in a number of states, teachers across the country may have to continue teaching in the virtual environments as they did in the spring.

To help prepare teachers for success in this new normal, ORAU’s K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math team offered a number of digital and remote instruction sessions as part of their annual educator professional development programs. Historically, these programs have occurred in a technologically advanced model classroom on ORAU’s Oak Ridge campus.

ORAU K-12 goes virtual: Setting teachers up for success with remote professional development

Because of the pandemic, all 29 sessions were offered in a virtual environment, including Colorful and Sweet Chemistry and Polymers All Around Us by the ever-popular Dr. Al Hazari. Additional sessions included:

“Offering virtual sessions obviously struck a chord with teachers, so we’re already thinking about how we integrate more virtual programming into our schedule next summer,” said Jennifer Tyrell, K-12 section manager.

The move proved to be a popular one, Tyrell said, as 268 teachers from 27 states and the District of Columbia attended at least one session. Most teachers attended multiple sessions based on the 838 session completions the K-12 team measured.

One of those teachers is Wayne Hamlin, who completed 13 online sessions totaling 50 hours of continuing education. Hamlin is a physics, chemistry, computer science and physical science teacher at T.C. Robertson High School in Asheville, N.C.

Hamlin, a nationally board-certified teacher who is beginning his 26th year as a teacher, has always wanted to attend ORAU professional development programs, but he hasn’t been able to because North Carolina schools end a month later than most schools in Tennessee, and he would incur travel expenses.

“I believe ORAU did an excellent job offering a variety of learning opportunities online, and I believe I will be better prepared for both online and in-person teaching during the next school year,” he said. “I sincerely hope that ORAU will be able to continue offering online professional development opportunities even after the COVID-19 virus school shutdowns have come to an end and professional development seminars can occur face to face.”

Hamlin says he looks forward to helping his students better understand how to use Zoom, the online platform that schools, businesses and other organizations are using to continue operations. He will also share with students all of the things he learned about polymers, Vector applications and creating HyperDocs, a digital tool where all the components of a learning cycle are contained in one document.

Barbara Mosley, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Whittle Springs Middle School in Knoxville, Tenn., also has a lot she looks forward to sharing with her students from the virtual workshops.

“I am so excited about the opportunity for my students to experience authentic, hands-on, independent learning with technology, and it is difficult to choose just one skill to share. Every session that I attended was an ABSOLUTE value for me and my students,” said Mosley, who has been a teacher for 13 years.

Mosley attended seven professional development sessions and enjoyed the convenience and comfort of learning from home.

“I felt more at ease to share my thoughts, ideas and opinions in the large group sessions and the breakout sessions. I would not have been as open and at ease if we were face to face,” she said, adding that she liked being able to gain the insights of teachers she met from around the country.

“Collaborating and interacting with other teachers put my mind at ease to know that we all shared similar concerns about the pandemic’s impact on education,” she said. “I was encouraged to see that so many of us want the BEST for our students and are willing to develop new skills to better prepare us for whatever may come.”

Jessica Sadler, is another teacher who appreciated the interaction with others. Sadler is a middle school science and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher at Oregon Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kan., where she will begin her ninth year of teaching.

“Interacting with other teachers was beneficial in the Design Thinking sessions,” she said. Design Thinking is an iterative, solutions-based process where students learn to solve problems using empathy and building prototypes. “We brainstormed ways that it could be used in our classrooms and projects ideas/implementation for the coming school year.”

Sadler is looking forward to teaching her students Design Thinking concepts and using Hyperdocs.

Because of the pandemic’s growing intensity, many school districts are still deciding when and how the new academic year begins.

Hamlin, Mosley and Sadler said their school districts are still formulating plans, but all expect to put their newly honed skills to work quickly.

“I feel that the three sessions I have been a part of this summer will allow me to create various learning opportunities in a more engaged and organized fashion,” Sadler said.

That is music to Tyrell’s ears.

“Giving teachers tools they can put to use in their classrooms immediately translates to a better learning environment for students that we hope fosters their love of STEM subjects,” she said. “That’s why we do this.”

About ORAU

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Media Contacts

Pam Bonee Director, Communications Work: 865.576.3146 Cell: 865.603.5142
Wendy West Manager, Communications Work: 865.576.0028 Cell: 865.207.7953