We Keep Growing, and Growing, and Growing:
The Inception of the CAE Great Lakes Regional Teaching Exchange
Michael C. LoPresto; Henry Ford Community College
This Month's Teaching Strategy comes to us from Michael LoPresto at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan. Michael is long-time member of the CAE community, and as you'll read, hosted one our workshops a while back. He'll be talking to us about a part of CAE called our Regional Teaching Exchanges, of which he is one of the Coordinators. In addition to the CAE Great Lakes Regional Teaching Exchange that Michael coordinates, there are also several others: the CAE Greater Northwest Regional Teaching Exchange, the CAE Southern California Regional Teaching Exchange, the ,CAE New England Regional Teaching, and soon there should be additional Exchanges in New York and the South East. After reading Michael's article, if you'd like to create your own CAE Regional Teaching Exchange, or become a member of one in your neck of the woods, let us know. And now, here's Michael!
The Center for Astronomy Educations (CAE) Great Lakes Teaching Exchange had its origins at a CAE Tier I Teaching Excellence Workshop given by CAE Gina Brissenden and Ed Prather, and hosted by Henry Ford Community (HFCC) College in Dearborn, MI in February of 2007 (we specially ordered some typical cold and wet Michigan weather for our friends from Arizona). About fifty astronomy instructors from throughout the Great Lakes region attended the 2-day workshop, some from as far away as Chicago and Indiana, and learned in formal and informal settings all about different, new, and innovate ways of teaching introductory astronomy. I was HFCC's host of the workshop and was absolutely thrilled to get named by Gina as one of the best regional workshop hosts CAE had yet had. I'm sure all the free food that I managed to get there, thanks to several book publishers and my department's budget, didn't hurt my cause. I also was also asked if I would be the "organizer" for a Great Lakes chapter of the CAERegional Teaching Exchanges, and I have been recently dubbed "coordinator."
The CAE Regional Teaching Exchanges were designed to allow past CAE workshop participants to continue their professional development beyond the scope of the CAE workshops with their geographical neighbors. Since many members of the broader CAE community are often the only astronomy instructor at their institution, Ed and Gina felt it was very important to help us all find that "critical friend" they always tell us at workshops we need. From my past experience attending several astronomy education meetings, both in the formal sessions and in informal conversations, I got so many ideas about new and different ways to teach astronomy, and I found these events truly were an "exchange" of information. Participants wanted to hear what we each had to say and wanted to tell each other what they knew. We could talk, or we could just listen, but everyone seemed to benefit from the exchange of ideas, which is why I am so excited about coordinating the CAE Great Lakes Regional Teaching Exchange. This more, dare I say, formal and institutionalized exchange of ideas with the same people coming together time and again, allows for the creation of strong professional bonds that will make us all better instructors. And, as coordinator, I look forward to facilitating more of these gatherings in the future, gatherings that I very much recommend to anyone who would like to improve their teaching of astronomy with the infusion of many new and fresh ideas from their colleagues.
The Great Lakes Regional Teaching Exchange's first meeting after its inception was as an "Astronomy-Arm" of the Michigan Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (MiAAPT). The group ran two breakout sessions parallel to the Mich-AAPT's Spring Meeting in April 2008 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. In the morning, Joe Lowry of Eastern Michigan University and I gave a workshop on the implementation of active and collaborative learning in introductory astronomy. Steve Murrell, my colleague and good friend at HFCC, gave a talk and workshop on the astronomy laboratories we teach at HFCC, both in-class and online. After attending a talk on Particle Physics by the MiAAPT meeting's invited speaker Sylvester ,Jim" Gates from the University of Maryland and lunch with the group's membership (I think just as much important an exchange occurs over meals as in any other part of a professional meeting or workshop.) the afternoon astronomy breakout session consisted of contributed talks by Dr. Don Bord and Eric Rasmussen at the University of Michigan-Dearborn on the UM-D/HFCC collaboration on an NSF–funded project to build an observatory (of which I had been extremely thrilled and fortunate to have been a part), by Steve Murrell again on HFCC’s walk-through solar system scale mode, and be me on Assessment of Active Learning. It was heartening to be thanked by the small but appreciative audience being willing to share not only what we do, but in the case of my talk, our results, even when the assessments showed that we still have plenty or room for improvement in teaching some concepts!
Our next meeting of the CAE Great Lakes Regional Teaching Exchange will take place as the MiAAPT Astronomy-Arm planned for March 28, 2009 at Michigan State University. A workshop on teaching astronomy online and another session of contributed papers are so far in the works.
Prior to the MiAAPT meeting next summer, I am planning to give a poster on the CAE Great Lakes Regional Teaching Exchange at the Winter Meeting of the National AAPT in Chicago, Ill. February 12-16, 2009. If you are at the Chicago meeting, please stop for by an informal chat about future plans for our CAE Exchange.
Chief among future plans are events to accompany the AAPT Summer 2009 National Meeting at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor July 25-29. Among many possible Astronomy-related activities are another workshop on Student-Centered Astronomy Teaching Other plans being considered by the National AAPT’s Committee on Astronomy, and Space Science chaired by Kevin Lee include possible visits to the Planetarium at the U’s Natural History Museum, directed by my good friend Matthew P. Linke, featuring a brand new digital projection system, funded completely by private donations brought in by Matt, and a trip to the University’s Peach Mountain Observatory, home to a 24 inch telescope and the University’s Radio Observatory.
Living and working in close proximity to U of M, my father’s (also an astronomer-still alive and working!) and my alma-mater, I will be enthusiastically contributing and assisting in any way I can to these activities and anything else, formal or informal we can dream up to do in Ann Arbor.
I hope to see you all soon at any one or more of the above events! And, even if you didn’t attend the CAE Teaching Excellence Workshop we held at HFCC, but you are in the Great Lakes are, please let me welcome you to your local community!