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Chicagoland: Science, STEAM, and Sheer Awe

Posted by on in Teaching with Rigor
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In late July, I had the opportunity to participate in the AASA digital consortium summer meet up. The consortium visited two superb districts (Leyden High School District 212 and Deerfield Public School District 109) as well as one Titan in its own class (the Chicago office of Google). 

The symposium started with an overview of the Leyden school district. A diverse, blue collar town, Leyden has a little bit of everything to offer. What was most impressive was the fact that Leyden truly understood the necessity to prepare young adults to be adults in the workforce.  Not that they weren't preparing for college prep too, but it's always fantastic to see what schools are doing for the student going into the workforce. 

Tours like this always start with "the nickel tour" (tour of the building),  which was immaculate. The building itself was over 70 years old, but you would never think it. I later found out that the entire maintenance team are non-outsourced employees, which we all know leads to high quality work and investment in work. When I say immaculate, I could have eaten my lunch off of the floor.

We then saw two specific programs that were essentially turnkeying students for the workforce. One program focused on CNC machinery (tool & dye) and the other was computer repair. You may think CNC machinery as odd, but there is a large CNC plant in town, and the district collaborates with the plant in creating and maintaining the program. The epitome of win-win.

The computer repair program was a variety of mini-stations: a student-lead technology help desk, a chromebook  repair station, and a coding station. All stations were oversaw  by a teacher, but all work was being completed by students. From diagnosing computer problems to 3D printing parts for said computer problems, it was a well-oiled machine. 

The next day was spent at Google's Chicago office, where Superintendents from around the country gathered to brainstorm and work through problems. This was all done in one of many conference rooms that Google has. And yes, before you even think about it, th offices were amazing. Part IKEA, part arcade, part diner, and part cubicle, the offices were amazing. All of the things about the Google office that I heard were correct, including:

Funky furniture

A manicure/pedicure and massage office

Fully stocked kitchens on every floor

Nap pods

Ping pong

Some of the most creative minds I will ever come across.

The third day was focusing on another Chicago suburb school district, Deerfield. The district, the almost polar opposite of Leyden, is a K-8 district focusing on preparing students for college prep classes in high school. Most impressive was the newly built science wing, which took three years to build after scads of tinkering to perfection. To be honest, words can't really begin to describe the detail and quality of these science rooms. The pictures below speak for themselves. Every single aspect of the room was focused on; no stone was left unturned. Highlights of the wing include:

Floors that had scientific Equations embedded in them, as well as state of the art seating

Monitors all around the room are connected to one camera in front of the teacher's station, so the teacher can model as students partake in labs.

Rain collection stations for fully functioning aquaponic workstations, along with camera equipped bird houses

A hallway designed with RGBOYV for studying purposes, along with monitors that are reporting outdoor temperatures and scientific data

The tour also included a new STEAM lab and was loaded with students talking about their daily experiences. 

In all, three amazing days this summer. Superintendents need to see this - it shows all of us that work needs to be done in our home districts, and also shows us that all of the dreams and thoughts that run through our head everyday are indeed fully capable of becoming student reality.

I'm looking forward to the next collaborative venture. I can't wait to see what's next.


This post was also published on the AASA website.

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Jay Eitner is a proud product of the New Jersey public schools. A graduate from Union High School in 1997, Jay attended The American University in Washington DC with a BA in interdisciplinary studies. He began his teaching career in Roselle, NJ teaching a variety of subjects including social studies, computers, and digital literacy. Known for being ‘outside of the box’ and for strong technology infusion, Eitner strived to make a learning environment that was student centered, data driven, and technology infused. Jay received his Masters Degree from Kean University in 2004 and was hired to teach 8th grade social studies in the nationally recognized East Brunswick Public Schools. During his time in East Brunswick, Eitner has written & received over $140,000 in grants for his students. Grants ranged from podcasting equipment to creating a fully-interactive gold-rush experience, where students dug for gold during their westward expansion unit. Jay obtained his supervisor, principal, and school administrator certificates from the NJPSA NJ-EXCEL program in 2009. Administratively, Eitner has served as a middle school Assistant Principal in the Washington Township Schools , a K-12 Supervisor of Social Studies in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District, and a Superintendent of the Lower Alloways Creek School District. Jay currently serves as a Superintendent of Schools for the Waterford Township School District. He has presented a series of workshops on digital leadership, technology infusion, and student achievement. Recent awards include the 2015 national Educators Voice Award in the category of Superintendent, the White House MakerSpace distinction, and named to the national Academy of Arts & Sciences as a 2016 Educator To Watch.

Jay currently resides in Mount Laurel, New Jersey and is a proud Dad of twin girls and his puppy Lola.

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