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STEM: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

STEM: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Date of the Event: July 16, 2020 | Dr. Chris Williams, Dr. Seth Shaffer, and Mariela Puentes
Show Notes:

In this webinar Dr. Chris Williams from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, helped us reflect on how history and STEM practices and principles can be integrated every day. This webinar also featured the Question Corner with child psychologist, Dr. Seth Shaffer*, and education expert, Mariela Puentes.

The Family Room 7-16-20

Megan: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Family Room. Happy Thursday, everybody. We are so excited to see you again to discuss STEM: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Dr. Chris Williams from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This is part of our ongoing series that we’ve had for the past couple of weeks, with MAEC in partnership with Turning the Page.

This is the last one of our Family Room series...

The Family Room 7-16-20

Megan: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Family Room. Happy Thursday, everybody. We are so excited to see you again to discuss STEM: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Dr. Chris Williams from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This is part of our ongoing series that we’ve had for the past couple of weeks, with MAEC in partnership with Turning the Page.

This is the last one of our Family Room series together this summer, but we are so excited that you all have been logging on and we are so glad you’re here with us today. So as always, if you’ve been here before, we are going to dive into a top of the mind question, what everyone’s thinking about right now, and then we’re going to be able to hear from Chris about his experiences in STEM. What’s going on at the museum and what the future may be for some of your kiddos in the field.

We’re also going to have our question corner with Dr. Seth Shaffer as always, and education expert Mariela Puentes. And then a wrap up and a survey cause we’d still love to hear what more you’d want to see from us going forward. If you have any questions at all during the webinar, please use the chat box and question answer. As we’d love to get to all of them. We have some time with Chris today, but we also started to touch on last week, what’s going on with schools and how we’re going to deal with this anxiety that’s kind of hanging over us. So as you have thoughts, please feel free at any anytime to add them in there and we’ll get to them. And I’m going to pass this off to Mariela to hear a little bit about CAFE.

Mariela: [00:01:46] Thank you Megan. And welcome everyone. We’re happy to be continuing to be a part of this collaborative effort between MAEC and Turning the Page. As Megan mentioned, this will be our last webinar together but at the end of this webinar, I’ll also be telling you more about the future webinars series. And we’ll hope you continue to follow us then as well.

So MAEC, we’re an educational nonprofit in Bethesda, Maryland founded in 1991, dedicated to increasing access to high quality education for culturally, linguistically and economically diverse learners. Our vision is a day when all students have equitable opportunities to learn and achieve at high levels. And MAEC’s mission is to promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice.

So now a little bit about CAFE. CAFE is Collaborative Action for Family Engagement center, it’s a project of MAEC. We apply an equity lens to family engagement by building relationships among schools, parents, and community organizations. And we improve the development and academic achievement of all students. We are the statewide family engagement center for Maryland and Pennsylvania, and we are funded through a federal Department of Education grant for statewide family engagement centers. And now we’ll pass it back to Megan who will talk about Turning the Page.

Megan: [00:03:11] Yeah. So Turning the Page is a nonprofit organization located in DC and Chicago, and we work to connect families and public schools to high quality resources. To what’s in their community and to what’s going on with their administration, their teachers, and also the overall school districts, which we’re doing a lot of as we go forward and figure out what’s happening with schools reopening in August. But as part of our virtual programming, it’s been exciting to share these opportunities with you all on Thursdays.

So on today’s top of our mind, we are going to ask Dr. Seth Shaffer, what suggestions do you have for capturing feelings, thoughts, and current experiences? Are there any therapeutic benefits?

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:04:01] I wouldn’t have a job if there weren’t any therapeutic benefits to that. So I will say an emphatic yes to their being therapeutic value. What do we mean by that? Like does the child, teenager, whatever benefit from trying to capture their own thoughts, feelings, et cetera, about events. So here’s some quick tips and then we’ll get to Dr. Williams, which I’m really looking forward to with your awesome background as well.

Okay, maybe journal, maybe, you know, do a diary, if your child is into writing. You can write poetry even. I have one of my clients who’s into writing raps. And so he, you know, writes poetry in the form of raps to even songs or, you know, instrumentals. But really art as a whole. So even younger children, like my six and a half year old, Julian who you guys have heard a lot about those of you who’ve been with us for a while, he’s super into drawing. Right? So that’s the main way that children express themselves is through drawing as an example, but also just play in general. So I’ll throw play in there.

Even active activities are forms of expression and ways of kind of capturing what’s happening right now, daily experiences. So like sport like activities, riding a bike, taking a walk, of course, being safe and wearing a mask and all that good stuff. The other thing too, as a caregiver or, you know, an adult who is involved in young person’s life, catch them when they’re cold. And what I mean by that is catching them while they’re hot in my, how I’m using it in this context is like, if they’re having a big emotion or big feeling in the moment. Okay, that’s time for like helping them cool down and helping them meet them where they’re at and help them deal with the emotion.

Catch them all they’re cold would mean they’re calm if that makes sense. So I like the idea of daily check-ins. A good place to do that or a good opportunity is around the dinner table. Huge proponent of, you know, having daily dinners together as a family. And that would be an opportunity to check-in. Maybe even a bedtime, that kind of a thing, whatever, you know, your child. So whenever you think that would be a good opportunity, catch them all they’re cold and calm and ask them just how they’re doing. Or, Hey, I noticed like you seemed a little upset earlier, what’s up. You know, something like that. So those are some tips for that.

Megan: [00:06:11] Great. Thank you so much for sharing that. I mean, especially now I think having those daily conversations are so key because the news changes every single day. So really making it a point to find that time and space.

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:06:26] I’ll just add one quick thing, sorry. And I want to kind of say one quick thing about the therapeutic value. What does it do? When you facilitate a child or young person expressing themselves it, I always think of like better out than in. So if I’m 13 or I’m six or whatever, I’m having some feelings inside, you can tell, as my parent or caregiver, cause you love and care about me. By you helping me get those feelings out, it allows my brain and body to process them. And of course, all the tips that I gave earlier about ways to do that are what I would throw out at, you throw in there as like adaptive, adaptive ways of expressing emotion. So I just want to throw in some therapeutic value. Makes the person feel good, makes them feel like you care about them and can help them actually work through emotion by helping them express it in adaptive ways. That was the last thing.

Megan: [00:07:15] No a last thing, but also a really important thing. Thanks for adding that in Seth. Now like Seth just mentioned, we are so excited, for Dr. Chris Williams to be here with us today. He is the STEM education specialist at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. And he has been sharing the stories of African American achievement in STEM, both in in-person programming when we could have it, but also through virtual programming and working with educators and teachers and kids in grades K through 12. And he’s going to be able to talk a little bit more in depth about his journey with STEM and also share with us some awesome activities that are available from this amazing museum.  And thank you so much for joining us. I’m going to I’m passing the mic over to you, Chris.

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:08:07] All right. thank you for having me. Hello everyone. I hope everyone’s doing well. As Megan said, my name is Christopher Williams and I am the STEM education specialist at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I tell the stories of African Americans and the contributions and impacts they’ve made on American culture and lifestyle and I do that through a number of in-person programs, virtual programs. As well as things for teachers, students, and the public as well. So we can move to the next slide Megan.

Alright. So when I’m talking about, when I’m talking about what I do always like to take people all the way back to the beginning so they can understand how I ended up where I am. So this is a little bit of a career talk, and I’ll also talk about some of the activities that we have at the museum that are ongoing now and other digital activities that we have on a platform such as the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

So I just want to say I’m born in Baltimore, Maryland, and I am a brother. I have an older brother and a younger brother we’re all four years apart. And when I was a kid I wanted to become a dentist. I knew I was going to become a dentist, but as my older brother got older and I realized he was going to go to college. And then after going to college, I said, hold on, if I have to go to extra school to become a dentist, then I don’t think that’s something that I want to be. So, because of that, I decided I didn’t want to become a dentist, but I didn’t know at the time that I would end up going to graduate school for an additional six years after finishing undergrad.

But I’m also a husband and a father of twin, 21 month old twin boys. And so I have my hands full at work and also have my hands full at home. Next slide please. Alright, perfect. So I grew up in Baltimore and I graduated from high school at Baltimore City College High School in 2002. And right before I graduated, I was facing a very difficult choice about where I was going to go for undergrad. My choices, my top two choices were the University of Maryland College Park and Frostburg State University.

The University of Maryland had all the glitz and glam that are a high school student would want in a college. It was big, it had a lot of activities and it had a swim team. And I was a member of a swim team when I was in high school. But also at Frostburg they had a beautiful campus. It was a little further from home, which was a good thing. And they also had my major, biology, which I wanted to major in.

So I decided to go to Frostburg State University where I majored in bio and minored in chemistry and then during that time, when I was there, one of my chemistry teachers actually told me about an undergraduate research program called the Ronald E. McNair undergraduate research program. And it’s a national program. And I participated in two years of research with the University of Maryland. And it was during this time that I realized that I really wanted to go to graduate school. And so it was a wonderful opportunity for me to be outside of the house, get paid to do research and then just really figure out what I wanted to do in my life.

And so after that, after my time at Frostburg, I applied for graduate school. And I ended up going to Georgetown University here in Washington, DC. Where I received my PhD and biology. Graduate school was a six year long process, it was a difficult time, it was also a wonderful time. I met a number, a number of amazing people, and many of them are still friends to this day.

So graduate school, although it was challenging, it ultimately allowed me to end up where I am now. And a one point I really want to make is that if you notice my path through school at no point that I take any museum education studies or science education studies, because those would have helped prepare me for my job that I have now. But what I did is I got experienced outside of the classroom, just, volunteering and lending a hand here and there whenever I could. And that is what allowed me to end up where I am. So I want you to tell your children that going to school to get a degree is definitely important, if that’s what they’re interested in. But you don’t only have to do what you went to school for. And I am the perfect example of that. S

o after finishing  at Georgetown University, I ended up going to the National Institutes of Health as a postdoctoral researcher. Now a postdoc is a training position for someone who’s finished their PhD, but they’re not quite ready to run their own lab. So that was my goal when I started at the NIH. I said, when I get finished here, I’m going to run my own lab. I’m going to have a team of researchers working for me and we’re going to change the world.

However, you know, all of our plans don’t often go the way that we planned them to. So when I went in with that plan as plan A, I also had  a plan B. I said, if plan A doesn’t work out, I need to also be able to figure out what else I’m interested in and what else I can do. And I did that by participating in a career festival that they had at the National Institutes of Health during my first year there.

And it was there when I first got involved in science education in Washington, DC. And I volunteered at the Carnegie Academy for science education. I learned a lot about how to run a STEM education program. What was, what were the needs from the students. What types of things I could provide for teachers and parents. And it was there I really started to develop my thirst for science education.

Now while I was at the National Institutes of Health. If you see this worm swimming across the screen right here, this worms called C elegans or Caenorhabditis elegans. And this is what I researched, the research on for four years while I was there. It was a wonderful time it was very exciting. And honestly, I had a great time. But the reason I decided to leave research is that it was not as fulfilling for me is I would like, compared to what I was getting when I was working with students and working with teachers. Working with students and teachers just filled a certain place within my heart, within my soul that made me happier than anything else than I would ever get from doing research.

So while I was at NIH, I did a number of things. I started to get myself involved in leadership roles. I had speaking engagements within the NIH and also outside of the NIH. And I also participated in a number of teaching opportunities, specifically around STEM education. I did after schoolwork, I did a STEM fair, STEM festivals, and I just really tried to be as involved as possible as I could be in the STEM education scene.

Now let’s talk about what I meant when I said I wanted to become a leader. When I was at the National Institutes of Health, I started an organization known as the Network of African American Scientists. Now the purpose of this organization was to help welcome any new African American scientists, whether they were straight out of undergrad, whether they were there as an intern for the summer, or whether they were like me and coming in from just finishing their graduate degree. In this program, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet all of the African Americans scientists that were at NIH and also a way for me to make sure that they felt professionally heard and personally heard. And so it was a great time for me just to kind of step out of my comfort zone and begin to start to, you know, spread my leadership wings.

And beyond that, I started a nonprofit STEM organization called the First Life Science Program. So this organization was began in 2015. And this is when I started to go into schools and doing afterschool work and really started to develop my personal flavor of science education. And this is where I really developed a lot of the experience that allowed me to end up in the position where I am today.

Now, when I was at the National Institutes of Health, I started a nonprofit science education program called the First Life Science Program. Now this was a great opportunity for me to bring science, education, activities, practices, and principles to the K-12 students in the Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia area. And I did this for three or four years. And the reason that I stopped, or at least slowed down is because one, I ended up in this position. But two my wife and I had two wonderful children. So I don’t have, I don’t have, I don’t have two days worth of time in every single day, so I have to pick and choose where I spend my energy.

But, the First Life Science Program is a great way for me to be involved in the community, reach out to the next generation of scientists and just get the young children excited and interested in science before they even knew that it was actually work cause I try to bring STEM to them in a way that they think is fun.

And so after leaving the National Institute of Health, I participated in a science policy fellowship where I was placed at the National Science Foundation. Now this a science policy fellowship is open to scientists who have a PhD or engineers who have a master’s degree with at least two years of working experience.

And what happens with these people is that we apply for a position, in one of many federal government agencies around the Washington DC area. And if we get the position, they want us to come in and bring our expertise and use our expertise to help with some of the tasks and activities that they have going on in their individual offices.

So at the National Science Foundation, we probably had 40 fellows like me spread throughout the agency, all working on different things, gaining experience, developing new skills. But for me, the most important thing that was really going on when I was there is that I was building both my personal and professional networks. And this leads me to how I ended up here at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. So working at the museum as the STEM education specialist, it is my dream job, I must say. Because I had been doing this type of work, STEM education, outreach, and engagement work for a decade before I first started to get paid for it.

So this, this is exactly why I was my dream. And if it’s your dream, this is something that another thing you can let your kids know, or is this really your dream, you’d probably do it for free. It doesn’t mean that you should, but you probably would do it for free. That’s what I did for 10 years. It was kind of a side hobby, but now it is what I do to put food on the table for my family. And the way that I got this position, it was kind of a dream as well. So what, before I got this position, one of my things I always wanted to have happened in life is I want it to be so like first round draft pick, I always think about people going into the NBA and NFL. I said, it must be nice for someone to say, I want you, and then you end up working for them, but that’s kind of what happened here.

So I was home one day after coming from work. And I got a call from a former colleague from when I was in graduate school. And what she said is she says, do you want me to pass your name on to the National Museum of African American History and Culture? And at this point I had been volunteering for 10 years and I wasn’t necessarily interested in doing more volunteer work, but because it was the museum, I said, sure, go ahead, pass my name on I don’t mind. And about 30 minutes later, I received an email from one of the staff there. And she said, would you like to come in to learn more about these programs, this up, these new programs that we’re developing?

Now to me, she never said the word interview, but it had all the makings of an interview. So I got my hair cut, trim my beard, I got a new suit. And I went in for this interview. What ended up happening is that I was actually right when I was in there. She told me all about the position. She asked me tons of questions. I told her about my life, told her about my professional experience. And then at the end of the interview, she says,  if you want this, this position is yours and I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe it. So this was my first round draft pick moment.

So what I do at the museum is I have about four key programs that I put my energy and focus to. The first is the STEM teacher fellowship program. This is an  opportunity for two STEM teachers from anywhere in the country to come and work with us at the museum to help develop new STEM content that we then released out into the world either digitally or in person for students, teachers in the public. We also have a K-12, we have a number of K-12 STEM educator workshops. We normally have a day long workshop in the spring, and we also have a multi-day workshop in the summer that typically is a week long, but this year it is only three days long and it will be virtual this year.

Now, during these workshops, I’ll have different speakers come in and talk to the teachers. And during this time I talked to them about history. I talk to them about the accomplishments of African Americans in STEM, and then I want them to so leave with resources that they can use within the classroom. And also new teaching strategies, new teaching ideas, teaching content for them to use with their students.

Also, we have programs that are called pop-up programs. These are small museum programs where our visitors have an opportunity to come in and participate in hands-on activities which are not typically seen within the science museum. Now all of the activities that I provide are either related to the museum or African American history. And we do some really cool things. We’ve had things done about parachutes and people in the military. We’ve done things about solar power and electricity. And we’ve even done things about music and sound. And we make these programs extremely fun, extremely engaging, and then we even send people off with different items for them to find while they explore the rest of the museum.

Now, the last type of program that we have are known as STEM days. Now STEM days are larger museum wide programs that are normally built around a theme. Now. Our first STEM day was held last year in July of 2019. And it was all about African Americans at NASA. And I believe some of the Turning the Pag, families were able to come and participate. We had an astronaut come and speak. And then this most recent year, we had a STEM day focusing on African American engineers. And for this day we had an engineer from NASA, come in and talk about her experience working at NASA and speaking and traveling all over the world. And we also had the inventor of the super soaker, Lonnie Johnson come in and speak with the students. It’s always a lot of fun and it’s just an opportunity to inspire and inform both parents and students.

And now the vision of STEM at the museum is one I want us to become a global leader in K-12 STEM education. And I don’t want us just to become a global leader in STEM education about African Americans. I want us to be a global leader in STEM education for K-12, not because we talk about African American history, but because we’re putting out high quality content that is useful for anyone who’s interested in STEM. I want to enhance both the teaching and learning about visitors, the students and the teachers. And then lastly, I want all of our visitors to recognize the challenges, the resilience, and the triumphs that African Americans have had to overcome in STEM and beyond throughout our history here in this nation.

And then also, now I want to talk to you about a couple of different digital activities that our museum has available online. Now with these three activities are available for those who are interested at the Smithsonian Learning Lab and it can be found at And so the three activities, the three lessons that I’m going to talk with you about today, two of them are about the green features of the museum. While a third is about a historical figure in African American history.

So the Corona’s Cooling Power is a hands on activity that lets your students learn about heat, light and energy and they can do an experiment using a light sensitive paper. And at the end of the activity, what they’ll end up understanding is how the Corona, which is the outer covering of the museum is designed to let light into the museum so that you’re saving energy on your lighting, but it also blocks some of the light so that the museum doesn’t overheat. And in that way, you’re saving money on your cooling. And so that’s just one of the ways that we teach about the museum through STEM, teach about STEM using the museum as a focal point.

And then in the Exploring Solar Power at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This lesson is all about solar energy and electricity. Now a lot of people don’t know, but on top of the museum, we have solar panels, which create enough energy each year to power 11 average US sized homes. And in this activity, the students have the chance to make, to create a simple circuit. They understand and develop ideas about what it means to conduct electricity, what a circuit is and then he also understand how solar power, what type of factors such as cloud cover or the angle of the sun affects how much electricity is generated.

And then lastly, we have are following in the footsteps of George Washington Carver lesson. This lesson is more than just a history lesson and it’s more than just a STEM lesson. It’s more than just the history lesson because I guarantee you’re going to learn new things about George Washington Carver, that you never knew before. For example, most people don’t know that he, his sister and his mother were kidnapped when he was about just a couple of weeks old. And he, when he was still enslaved and during this time, his mother and his sister were never returned to their enslavers. However, George Washington Carver was returned and he grew up with his brother in the same place where he was enslaved. And eventually it was freed and raised by this family where he was. But these are just some of the different facts that you’ll learn from participating with this lesson.

And then lastly about this lesson, it’s an opportunity unity for your students or yourselves just to learn about growing things. For example, for this lesson, I show the students how to grow different types of plants, whether they’re green pepper seeds, or just starting with black beans or regular navy beans. And it’s just a fun way for students to really get an understanding and make a connection with the natural world about what plants need to survive.

Now, lastly, I want to talk to you about some of our programs that we have happening this summer, though these are all virtual programs. Now, the first one that you see here is called the summer reading challenge. And this is designed for third grade through 12th grade students. And it’s an opportunity to read some books that have been recommended by some of the staff at the museum. And then the artists at home program is something that happens weekly and it will be going on through August. And it’s an opportunity for middle school and high school students to practice making art and talking about art with one of our art educators at the museum. And then lastly, we have our final program, which is one that I am in charge of. This one is called through the window and into the mirror. And this is an opportunity for middle school and high school students to learn about careers in STEM. And what we do is we have virtual interviews with one STEM professional each week. Last week we had Dr. Marguerite Matthews, who you see in the middle, and tomorrow we have Dr. Joseph Bonneville, who is seen on the right. He is a computer scientist, computer engineer at the department of defense. He’s going to talk to whoever is available, whoever is online and to listen about his career, how he found [inaudible] difficulties, he faced as he moved throughout his career. And it be, a fun educational opportunity. We’ve had parents, we’ve had elementary school students participate in. It’s always a lot of fun. And, hopefully some of you can join.

Megan: [00:27:56] Thank you so much for sharing and we’ll make sure to send out those re registration links for that series that you’re putting on. I think that is so like perfect to get people when it’s virtual to reach as many of us as possible, especially as we think about what STEM looks like for all of our kids. And, you know, we can grow at home through projects like the George Carver, and also what we can read at home.

One question did come in for you. That was wondering if you had any suggestions for children’s books that involve STEM or STEAM or books that you’ve used at the museum before, that parents and educators can go out and find.

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:28:36] Okay. So I had to dig it into my crate here, but I was able to find a list of books that I think would be a great benefit. And I’m going to start to rattle some of them off. Well, one of them, is called Abby Invents Unbreakable Crayons. This is a great story about a young girl who learns how to be an engineer. And how to, and demonstrates sticktuitiveness in the invention of crayons that don’t break.

We also have the Doctor with an Eye for Eyes. It is the story of Dr. Patricia Bath. She was a famous and very successful African-American eye doctor. She invented a technique to treat people’s eyes who had cataracts. And it was a noninvasive way, and it was much faster, more effective than the previous way to treat cataracts.

We also have The Girl with a Mind for Math, which is the story of Raye Montague. She was the, she worked in the Navy and she was able to design some of the Navy ships and submarines in record time. So that’s a great read.

And then the last one I’ll talk about is Izzy Gizmo. It was just a fun story about a little girl who’s trying to just create the world that she loves and solves problems and it’s just a really fun story.

Megan: [00:29:56] Thank you for all those suggestions. Yeah. I mean, I was just talking about how I’ve been collecting children’s books myself, and I think I’m gonna have to add some of those to my own collection. Another question came in asking if you know if a standalone curriculum specifically addressing African American life and history has been proposed for inclusion into the public schools. Some of what you all have been working on in the museum, even with it being at DCPS or any other district networks, if you know of any curriculum. Even what you’ve just said now is a lot of awesome knowledge that everyone should be learning.

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:30:35] I must say, I don’t know of any curriculum that has been pushed into the public schools. But all of the content and the information that we create here at the museum related to STEM it’s, I love to put it out so teachers can use it and incorporate it into what they’re already doing. Like, I don’t personally make curriculum, but I do make content. Because each school district, each school, each teacher uses their own curriculum. So I do try to create content that they can find ways to incorporate and just put into their lessons from what they’re already using.

Megan: [00:31:09] I do know again, in our world where we used to, like, all be able to do everything together, and in person, I know you’ve passed along great resources for educators to come to the museum and go through trainings to introduce what you’ve been talking about into their own curriculum, as well as like you’re saying, having that content online and accessible for them. So definitely something that we’ll continue to share out with the MAEC, TTP, everyone who’s here today, as those programs get back up in person as well.

We did have an, I’m actually curious about this too, as you were talking about, does everything that you’ve done to get you where you are today, but what does First Life Science Program look like now?

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:31:51] It’s in existence, but there’s not much activity or any activity at all, because especially right now, it’s full time work and childcare and survival. But I’m excited about the day when things can get back to being a little more well rounded, but right now it’s very limited time, very little limited energy. So I’m just putting it in the very few places that really make the most sense to me at this point.

Megan: [00:32:19] Yeah. I mean, I think juggling twins alone without everything else is enough.

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:32:24] It’s tough, but it’s wonderful. Every day I get to see them growing and starting to put together two and three word phrases. So it’s like, okay, this is, this is really cool. [chuckles] And I’m teaching them STEM too. Don’t worry.

Megan: [00:32:37] [laughs] Well, now with all those great children’s books you can. You can easily start them young. We did get another question too coming in. Is how do you do outreach to increase children of color in the STEM fields?

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:32:54] Well, this one is a tough one, but I try to treat, I try to treat kids all the same by treating them differently. So what I mean is that if I want to get a child involved in anything, the first thing I need to do is figure out what they’re interested in. So back when I was doing my work at Bancroft elementary school, I asked the teachers, I asked the principal. I said, what are the things that the kids are really into?

And at that time it was Pokemon. So that the very first lesson we did, it was a six week lesson. I said, we’re going to create a hotel for your favorite Pokemon, and the hotel needs to withstand whatever their special power is. So for whatever, if you have a Squirtle which is a water Pokemon, your hotel needs to be able to get wet and not fall apart. So you just try to meet them where they are. And it doesn’t need to be work. It just needs to be fun. You just let them know these are some of the constraints with what your work. And say, these are the rules, but other than that, go crazy, have fun, just use your imagination. You always can be there to kind of guide them back to where you think they should be. It’s about having fun, it’s about using your imagination, being creative and just asking what if.

Megan: [00:34:05] We have one more question that kind of goes towards what you’re talking about, what you did in schools, but also thinking about how people are at home right now, and you’re at home with your twins. So we had one come in and says, what ideas for STEM activities online do you have for schools that aren’t open yet? And that they could potentially be sending out as they do open, knock on wood, whatever happens. And then additionally, or kind of almost simultaneously. For your young twins, do you have any activities that you do at home with them that you could pass on to parents and educators?

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:34:41] So one thing that we do with the boys, my wife takes him out to the yard. So we decided we’re going to start being gardeners. So they know all about, they know they can identify tomato plants, they can identify palm, the little mini palm tree we have. They know the cucumber, they know the squash, they know peppers. Like, I mean, children are just, I feel like they want do what we’re doing. So I just, we just keep them around, so that they can learn from whatever we’re doing.

But when it comes to finding more resources and more content for use in the classroom or use at home, I would say check out the Smithsonian Learning Lab. It is, it is a great place to get activities and get ideas about what you can do at home with your students. So on the Learning Lab, you have activities, not just from our museum, but from all of the other Smithsonian museums, as well as teachers and educators from around the country and around the world. They all can upload whatever content they want. And then once they do that, it’s available for you to use free of charge.

Megan: [00:35:42] Do you have, I know I said that was the last question, but in addition, do you have any tips or tricks, I know that the learning lab can kind of be daunting because it does have so much, specifically maybe even for like the STEM activities. Do you have any, maybe like key search words or like any advice you give when kind of maneuvering through it?

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:35:59] Okay. So if you’re going to go into the Learning Lab, on the top left, there’ll be a search bar, so if you’re interested in a person type that person’s name in, but if you’re interested in science and STEM type in science, STEM, and just see what comes up and if it’s likely to be related to, and to a specific topic, say your child is interested in space and air travel. Checking out the National Museum of Air and Space would be a perfect place. You would type Air and Space and then pilot or whatever you want into the search bar and just see what comes up. I think that’s just a great way. And you can also do that in Google or on Bing or whatever search browser you use.

Megan: [00:36:41] So just continuing to use some of those key words

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:36:44] Yeah.

Megan: [00:36:44] As you get into it. Well, thank you so much for sharing, your background, what led you here today and also some awesome resources that are online that we can all check out with our families. We really appreciate it and I know you’re going to go off and go get ready for the webinar that you’re hosting, coming up in the next couple of weeks. And so we’ll make sure again, to send out that registration information so folks can jump on and hear from the amazing guests that you’ll be having. So thank you so much, Chris, for being here with us today.

Dr. Chris Williams: [00:37:15] Thank you for having me. Take care everybody.

Megan: [00:37:21] And as always our next part of Family Room, we are going to have Dr. Seth Shaffer and  Mariela answer some questions, dig into some of the things that we’ve started to think about in the past couple of weeks. And if you have any other top of mind things, be sure to use the chat box and Q and A. The first question that’s been floating around, for sure, is how can we as teachers prepare emotionally, for the upcoming school year?

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:37:54] That’s the big question. We’re hearing about it in the news, we talk about it in our homes. We talk about it in our communities, safely of course. So it’s a really important question. I think we’re also going to get too from the parent’s perspective or caregiver’s perspective too time permitting, to talk about how to prepare parents emotionally for upcoming school year, so they can help prepare their young ones, their kids. And we’ll say a little bit more about that in a bit.

But teachers, well I want to say again, thank you so much for all the hard work that you’re doing right now. These are stressful times to say the least. And so we know that you’re working hard to try and do what you think is best for yourself in terms of your own safety and wellbeing. And that you’re also trying to do what you think is best for the students that you plan on serving. As our education expert, though, I think Mariela will have a unique perspective on this and then I might chime in again, if that’s all right. Take it away, Mariela.

Mariela: [00:38:55] Thank you. So, first of all, I think I would say that, so teachers, I think you need to take care of your needs and priorities first, right? Because you’re in a profession and you’re in teaching where you’re constantly placing other people’s needs before your own. And you’re constantly thinking about the children that you teach, even when you’re not in the classroom. Right so you’re like invested in seeing them do well academically, social, emotionally. I would say first, think about what you need as a person to be okay, to feel, less stress, less worried. But also like prioritize what you value about education, about teaching. Is it the relationships that you have with students and families?

Is it the light bulb moments or the aha that students have when they’re learning something? Is it seeing the student growth? Seeing their personality, sort of shine as you’re teaching? And then think about how that can be replicated in whatever model of school comes in the fall. So that you can feel that same sort of passion and excitement about a work every day. Cause I know it’s really challenging for many of us, right. But you’re especially in a very vulnerable place.

And I think finding the things that bring you joy within that experience is really going to help. And then the other thing I would say is, thinking about how you can partner with families to see how they are situated in this moment and what they might need right now. And how you can build a reciprocal relationship where you both support one another, to see students grow and thrive, considering everything that’s going on with the pandemic.

And then lastly, I would say to think about how distance learning went for you this past spring, and to think about how that experience can be improved, for whatever model exists of schooling this fall. And seeing how your feedback or your voice can be represented in those decisions too. And that’s all I have for now. I’m going to turn it over to Seth.

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:40:59] Yeah. I mean, the last thing you said, Mariela which is so important is self advocacy. Because, you know, in order to be able to be the best teacher, the best administrator, the best educator that you can be, it’s important that you take care of yourself first. So just building off of that, and you might see me glance down in some notes here, because this is a very big and very important question. And then I see also just quickly in the chat here. Barbara, if I’m pronouncing your last name correctly, Dubik, forgive me if I’m not, our center, which I’m curious what center it is, I’m sure we all are, is having a parent zoom tonight to go over all reopening policies. I don’t know actually what state also Barbara is in either that’d be helpful.

We open to children on Monday. Staff is nervous, and parents. We serve infant, toddlers and preschool and a homeless transitional center. Wow. Good for you guys. Ideas for parents is a question. Some have asked that we guarantee their children will be safe. Of course we can’t buy any suggestions to share with them. So we’re going to get to parents. And in Mariela, will say again, about the upcoming, I think it’s three planned webinars that will be dedicated, and this happened earlier in the chat box. Some people brought it up, dedicated to preparing parents and families, and indirectly their children for the upcoming school year.

Okay. She wrote Maryland, Saint Anne Center for children, youth and families, nonprofit. Thank you, Barbara. So, but coming back here, so with, with teachers, I thin, the important thing just as a whole of building off of like taking care of yourself, what we call self care that needs to happen every day. You need to water, you know, your own garden, so to speak. Whether it be, you know, with exercise, regular exercise, trying to get the best sleep that you can and quality sleep, being mindful of your diet and things like that. Things that like, when you go to see the doctor, they ask, right, how’s your sleep, how’s your exercise? You know, those things, they asked that because a lot of research tells us and just anecdotally that those basic needs help contribute to our overall wellbeing. So teachers are no exception.

So beyond that, I wanna say, let’s see, it’s going to be bumpy. No matter what happens, it’s going to be a bumpy ride this coming school year, we’re  still in a global pandemic, you know? So, first and foremost, if there is anything happening in person, I highly encourage you to keep checking the CDC guidelines, check with your school obviously. Check with local public health officials about and licensing people about, you know, what safety measures that you need to take if there is some kind of hybrid thing happening or any kind of in-person education. I would show you guys my mask. I’m very proud of it. You know, I’ve gotten, got a little flare on my mask too, you know, that’s a fun way, even for kids. I think I mentioned this last week, or students to have this a sense of, inject some identity entity or some aspect of their personality or something they like, into the mask.

I thought it was great dr. Williams mentioned earlier about meeting kids where they’re at in terms of their interests. So in terms of safety, the same thing can kind of be applied with a mask that they can design their own mask. You can even do that virtually. That might be something as a teacher that you do right off the bat. And building off of that, assuming that there will be some type of online or virtual learning we have to manage our expectations for students. The population that I see in my work as a child psychologist, I usually, I see like mainly teens and tweens, and they’re coming to see us as therapists. So that’s a subset of the population, right. They’re already having challenges and they can benefit from therapy, but, some of the kids were having a lot of challenges with the virtual learning format. So, if that ends up being what happens this fall, I think the more prepared that you can be as a teacher, the more that you can, like, Mariela says stay connected to families, even now if that’s possible, to help ease their anxiety, they can ease their children’s anxiety. And that also helps you to be able to do your job better as a teacher. That would be good. So it’s going to be bumpy.

And then finally, whatever happens try to, and many of you, wonderful teachers out there already do this, but I want to just mention it anyway, to be as emotionally supportive of the students as best you can. So I would suggest some kind of regular check in right off the bat. Or even maybe dedicating if you’re allowed to, you know, whatever, a few classes to just like what kids are going through. If you’re able to or fit it in, you know, I know you’ve got a ton on your plate. I totally realized that I work with many teachers.

But just so that kids can feel emotionally supported. And I think the more that we talk about these issues, Coronavirus, how it impacts family, how it impacts teachers, how it impacts our society. The uprising that’s still happening, you know. And things of that nature that elicit emotion in a lot of us and bring about a lot of stress. Staying at home safely and things like that, the more we talk about it, the more it kind of normalizes what each of us are going through. And normalizing, I think is absolutely essential because we’re all more or less going through the same thing, of course to varying degrees. And I think I could go on and kind of ramble, but I don’t know Mariela was there anything else to add to that?

Or, oh, one quick thing. Sorry. Okay. Here’s a little mobile thing. If you want to do a check in with kids, there are socioemotional learning programs out there, you can go to the Casel, website to look up a different SEL, it’s referred to programs, which is socioemotional learning. And one, if not, most of those, I’ve done a lot of research on them I think RULER in particular. There’s a daily check in, and the daily check in can look like I mentioned this last week, you can ask how or feeling, you know, raise your hand that can be done virtually or in person. Raise your hand, tell me how you’re feeling right now. They can even do it, thumbs up, thumbs down or in the mix. So it doesn’t have to be verbal. It can be non verbal.

And then how big is your feeling? One to 10. So if you’re feeling nervous, school started, you know, Seth, well, how big is that feeling? One to 10, with 10 being the biggest, the feeling could be. Parents you can do this too. I’m probably like, I’m like a six right now. And just to normalize what the child is feeling, but give them the tools to be able to express themselves and you as a teacher can use that. You could maybe model you start out the discussion with, okay guys and gals I’m going to start out with, you know how I’m feeling and you can even say why, if you want to, you know, school’s just starting, the coronavirus is out there and things like that. And, you know, so that would be one little tool that I want to say. It’s a very concrete thing that might, you can weave into your check-in.

Of course, something that can be some like, kind of calming or relaxing, if you’re able to like a two minute mindfulness based exercise, where it helps the children kind of focus on what’s about to happen. I know a professor of mine, so I was in graduate school, but I’ve seen other, you know, kids K through 12, use it, throw up, if you’re able to like mirror, you can screen share. If you’re doing virtual, like a background that, you know, one of the kids, maybe they take turns picking for the teacher for the first check-in two minutes, I’m thinking off the cuff here. And the background is maybe of like an ocean or the kid can pick and they take turns, they can pick something that’s calming or relaxing to them. Well, but we’ll also kind of perk them up and help them focus and transition into the school day. So, and that’s so the routine, right?

So. Again, I could go on and on, but like, this is a big question, but I hope that there was some kind of value to what Mariela and I had to share there. So big, thanks to the teachers. Hang in there. We’re here supporting you. I’m a father, I’m trying to support my kid and a big thanks to the parents too, because you guys were also doing a lot of heavy lifting toward the end of the school year with virtual learning, you had to become teachers overnight. So we also, even as parents have a whole new appreciation for what teachers do on a daily basis, right? Interrupt me Mariela or Megan, cause I rambled.

Megan: [00:48:39] Yeah. No. I mean, I think you’re sharing a lot of awesome information, actually. Casel, the website that you just mentioned, that Jen chatted in the box has a ton of online activities and printables, for both school and for home. And I’ve been looking at it and sharing it with a lot of families over the past couple of months. They have some fun ways to dig into your emotions, but you also said that you touched on it just at the beginning, as you started to think about how can teachers be emotionally there, I’d say even for parents during this time, you said that self advocacy piece, could you just share like maybe like one or two tips on how to be a self advocate as we’re moving into, like there aren’t a lot of answers and when we ask, we might not know, but ways that educators and parents can do that right now with the districts, with each other, et cetera.

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:49:29] Yeah. Yeah, I even, you know, I want to be mindful here, Mariela, you actually know specifically, like you work with teachers, so maybe you should field that that follow up question. That’s a good followup question Megan. Mariela I’m gonna let you take that.

Mariela: [00:49:42] Yeah. So I would say one suggestion would be to think about ways that you can make your feedback or your voice heard. And think about where the decisions are happening, who’s having those sorts of conversations and how you can be a part of the process yourself, or with a group of teachers to figure out what your needs are and how you go about meeting those needs to make sure that this next iteration of school is successful.

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:50:10] I would just add to that, just kind of like to have a framework in mind when it comes to self advocacy. We’re all selfish. Every human being on this planet and selfish. And I think there are kind of good ways of being selfish and maybe not so good ways of being selfish. So a potentially good way of being selfish is you think about what your own needs are, as an educator for your job. This is your, this is your employment, right. And safety, your own safety comes to mind. I heard some statistics, so I’m not backing this up, but I’m throwing it out there just like, why not, I’m in the mood one out of five teachers and either some state or maybe even across the nation are considering not coming back. If there’s something in person.

So there’s clearly a lot of fear. There’s a lot of anxiety, but I think that, I think it stems from thinking about myself. You know, if I am in the eyes of public health officials or my doctor considered a high risk person to be in an environment where I’m surrounded by kids who wouldn’t intentionally, you know, trying to pass on the coronavirus, to me, that’s scary to me, you know, so my health is at risk. So I think the framework you want to be thinking about yourself in a good selfish way.

And then Mariela gave some very concrete tips about logistically who to consider reaching out to, how to get involved, and things like that.

Megan: [00:51:30] Yeah. And I think that Barbara mentioned this in the comment, and this is kind of where we’re going to pivot, of like, how can parents handle this, this uncertainty that’s kind of hovering over. And it sounds like some places are setting up these zoom conversations, which is awesome. But other places there hasn’t been a lot of a word out there or ways for them to hear. And so last week this did come up and we said we would go back to it, but just knowing that there is fear, that coronavirus continues to pop up and it’s spiraling and there could be a danger of returning to school. What can parents continue to use those strategies in the upcoming week?

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:52:12] Mariela, do you want to say a little bit?

Mariela: [00:52:15] Sure.

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:52:15] Yeah, go ahead.

Mariela: [00:52:16] So I think you have to start off with one assumption for yourself, right? Or one expectation for yourself is that, this is a constantly sort of changing and evolving situation. And it may require a response on a given day, and then you might have to shift and pivot to a different sort of response depending on whether your school or the childcare center closes, opens, maybe goes to virtual, maybe some combination. But really I think the conversation that you should be having with yourself right, and with your family is that it is tough, right. You are having to make very tough decisions. And a lot of families are having to decide between going to work, and in cases where they can’t work remotely, right. Or sending the children to school or to the childcare center.

But like, what do you do, right. So I think some strategies would be one to keep the lines of communication open with your children’s school, or with the childcare center and discuss your concerns, your priorities, your needs. See what option is best suited for you. It’s a really critical opportunity for educators and families to come together, right, because you’re working together to ensure student wellbeing, student safety, safety of teachers or families.

And I think you have to approach this first, from a stance of focusing on meeting your basic needs first. So I always think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? Where you’re thinking about, do you have food? Do you have enough sleep? Do you have water? Just like Seth mentioned, right. Do you have safety? Do you, are you financially secure? Do you have a shelter? Do you, is your health ok? And then moving on to the connections you have with other families, the connections your children have with other children or their age, the connections you have with teachers with educators. And then seeing how those needs can be met first, before you go into the need for like self development or academic components.

The other strategy I would say is to find ways for children to brush up on academic skills in nontraditional ways. So that could be like reading, writing, and mathematical understandings in like day to day lives. It could even be as simple as like storytelling and your family, right. And then having children come up with their own stories, whether it’s written, whether it’s through pictures, through like practicing oral literacy skills. And also like finding out what kids are curious about, what are they interested in? What are all the questions they can think about regarding that topic? And then just helping them sort of explore and take on their own sort of like learning strategies and learning process. And I think those are skills that are easily transferable to whatever the school system looks like in the fall.

Dr. Seth Shaffer: [00:55:00] I love what Mariela just said. And we covered this very early on when Family Series started, I believe as well as like when we were back in, I think it was May or something, and we were maybe earlier or whatever, we were in like homeschool mode as parents, right, across the nation. And Dr. Williams said this as well, with meeting the child where they’re at and finding out their interests and that Pokemon example is awesome. Right. And he also mentioned some books, like children’s books that you can use. So the learning doesn’t need to stop and you don’t need to do like, whatever, five, six hours of learning. If your child ends up being at home to supplement, whatever they’re doing on school or attempt to, right.

You can condense it and you can collaborate with your child, and try and see it as an opportunity to bond with them. While it’s challenging and you have to be mindful of like, how are you going to put food on the table? And things like that. There’s a lot of stressors and very real life things that play a role in that. But I really like what Mariela said.

We are going to be covering, Mariela over the next three weeks there are going to be three webinars, as of now, that are dedicated to helping parents and families, I already said this earlier, but you know, I’m not going to say too much more. Cause we have to wrap up here soon. That are dedicated to helping prepare families, as best we can for the upcoming school year. Focusing on socio-emotional needs, you know, kind of mental health related stuff and other things as well. So I encourage you. And in Karmen mentioned in the chat that there will be like a questionnaire, a survey that we’ll fill out that will help us know also gauge your interest and maybe there’s an opportunity to kind of suggest different things that you want us to cover. Right. Specific questions. So do that.

What I will say is children, in terms of fear, even adults, myself included benefit from some type of routine. We are generally creatures of habit. I believe. And I encourage you, this is a two part. One to try and maintain some type of routine for your child or establish one right now. That routine could even be like a normal wake up time, go to sleep time, right? Yeah. The hours can change a little bit, it’s summertime, you know. Something in the evening, right, if your kid’s doing some kind of zoom camp or they’re doing something, whatever, during the day, while you’re working, if you are, you know, fortunately, in the evening, it can be like when they get home, you play a game with them, you read a book with them. You have a quick chat with them. You go out, you go on a walk with them. And then they transition into the evening time of like, help me get ready for dinner. Help us get ready for dinner. Set the table and whatnot. And then keep it, so you’re keeping at least some part of their day it routinized, which can help reduce some anxiety, fear.

The second part of this two part and again, and we’re not gonna be able to cover everything related to preparing families right now, but we will over the next three weeks, hopefully, is safety. So if your child or children, hopefully they are, but if they’re not wearing masks, if for when they go outside, start to, if you haven’t already, introduced that culture to them, right? So you can have them practice or, you know, indoors even a little bit here and there. Certainly when they go outside, like have them have them more masks. I mean, that’s what public health officials generally are telling us.

And just to get them used to, cause if there is some kind of in person thing, I would imagine, you know, I’m hearing that schools are trying to social distance in the school and maybe there’s a face shield, maybe there’s a mask, but just it’s particularly young children helping them get, grow accustomed to that. And helping that language be brought up in your household and get normalized so that we’re talking about, coronavirus in the context of health is usually like what I suggest to parents to consider that angle.

And then just, final, sorry, two final things. I know it’s one o’clock, you guys know me. Flexibility, we all have to be as flexible and as patient as we possibly can right now. These are trying times. We’re all in it. You know, I saw some billboard and then like Long Beach area, whatever Southern California. It’s like, you know, something like we’re all together while isolating or something. But it’s, you know, it’s true. We’re all in it together. Patience and flexibility. Things are so uncertain, right, we can’t change the uncertainties, but we can change and make choices on how we handle them and how we adapt to them. Right. And then of course, there’s this major question, which we’re definitely not are going talk about anymore, and then I’ll be quiet after this one guys I promise. Is try to have a plan as a parent, right, with putting food on the table. Try to have a plan A, B and C for childcare, if you can, cause that’s number one. If you can’t put food on the table, your child or children don’t eat and how are they going to be able to learn fully if they don’t eat. Right. So that’s a big thing.

And do the best you can, talk with, communicate with other families with in your neighborhood. If you’re religious, maybe your local church or temple or synagogue, you know, whatever, and figure out a plan B or C for childcare just in case. And if anything, even if those plans change, which they probably will, it’ll make you feel better to just start planning, I think.

Megan: [00:59:59] Thank you so much for sharing all of that information that Seth. I mean, it is incredibly important to keep all of the best strategies in our toolkit as we go through this unprecedented  time and as things continue to change. We are really thankful if you’ve made it a routine to come to these Family Rooms, every Thursday. I have loved being with everyone and I am excited to tune in to the continued series that’s going to be going on. And we did not get to a couple of STEM questions that came up, but we do plan on sending out resources for educators and teachers with some more links there. And Mariela is going to tell you how to continue to connect with families at the table.

But thank you all for joining me. I have, this has been a pleasure, and it’s been exciting to have you all throughout this series and I will be joining you as participants on the next one.

Mariela: [01:00:55] Yes. Thank you so much, Megan. And please do connect with us. Follow us for our COVID specific resources, follow us for our newsletter. You can sign up at the link above.

Yes, there will be a recording sent to registered participants. Next three part series will be, it’s called Families at the Table webinars series. It’ll be for three Thursdays from July 23rd to August 6th. It’s a collaboration between the Maryland State Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Education and us. And the first webinar will be focused on hearing from department of education leaders, and learn about the considerations that have guided state reopening conversations in both Maryland and Pennsylvania. And this approach is likely to be relevant to schools, districts, and States across the country and not just in those two States.

And then the following webinars will be more so focused on helping families develop advocacy skills, strengthen the skills that they already have and renew relationships with educators as well as they consider their needs, their priorities or concerns regarding school reopenings.

And then please take our brief survey for today’s event. This helps us identify the sorts of webinars and topics that you’re interested in knowing more about and help serve your needs better. So thank you all so much. And we hope you join us for the next three series.


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