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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Coming Back Better Many Teachers Spent Their Summer Break Taking Courses To Help Improve Their Skills When Classes Resume

Dan Bible, math and science teacher at Centennial Middle School, didn’t have much of a vacation this summer.

Most of July, he ping-ponged up and down the coast to four workshops, learning different ways to teach math. A good part of August, he spent teaching a graduate level course for other science teachers.

Did he get any rest?

“I really didn’t this time out,” said Bible. “You know when you’re immersed in something and you love what you do …

” Scratch that stereotype of teachers who, come summer, do nothing but crank up the barbecue and work on their tan. Hundreds of Spokane Valley teachers took courses and workshops this summer to increase their skills and, yes, their paychecks, too.

Teachers find dozens of ways to learn: from a worldwide conference on teaching gifted and talented students, to a workshop taught by a 30-year high school science teacher, to job shadowing in industry for two weeks.

Seventy percent of teachers in the Spokane Valley take classes, workshops or other professional development in a summer, estimated Jay Walter, director of curriculum for Central Valley School District.

The state’s adoption of new testing, new goals and new essential learnings is part of the reason so many teachers are back in the classroom.

But normally, three reasons drive such strong teacher involvement in summer courses. In Washington, teachers move up the pay scale according to how many academic credits they have.

Also, teachers are required by state law to stay current with the latest educational thinking, by taking a certain number of “clock-hours.” Finally, teachers take summer classes out of their own love of their work.

Bible took workshops in teaching math using familiar, hands-on tools. ‘Manipulatives’ is the buzz word.

How will these new ideas change Bible’s teaching?

“Normally, if I was going to teach fractions, say, I would model the algorithm,” Bible said. (An algorithm is a set of mathematical instructions.) “Then I would have them do some practice. They would do individual practice first and then I would put them in groups for more practice.”

With this different approach, students might start out working with egg cartons or yarn or cotton balls.

“And they are creating different fractions using these egg cartons. They’re really understanding what a fraction is. They’re actually seeing it and touching it. Then you would move on to the actual number crunching,” Bible said.

Workshops done, Bible taught Education 570, or Elementary School Science Programs, for Eastern Washington University. He team taught with Dan Lewis, his mentor and a District 81 teacher.

The course was on teaching methods, with an eye toward the new state assessments. He believes in teachers working with teachers.

“The game is to educate the students,” said Bible. “You’re always on the hunt for new ideas to win the game.”

Here are a few other summer learning experiences undertaken by Valley teachers:

Gerry Manfred, math teacher at University High School, and Dick O’Brien, math teacher at Central Valley High School, took a workshop from Portland State University in using high-powered graphing calculators to solve calculus problems.

Manfred and O’Brien turned around this week and taught other CV math teachers their new skills.

“Dick and I knew we had to put on workshop for our teachers. So, we found out about a grant Portland State had gotten from H-P, and they approved me as an instructor,” Manfred said.

The new skills will help in Advanced Placement calculus.

“There’s one question that they always have on the AP test - a problem that deals with motion. We always did it by hand. Now we can work it by hand, but also see on the graphing calculator how the wave of motion increases and decreases,” Manfred said

Nancy Cartwright, humanities/ languages teacher at West Valley High School, spent her summer in a whirlwind of conferences. Her two focuses were gifted and talented education, and integrating school work with the world of business.

She went to Waco, Texas, for a conference on ways to better connect high school educators with work force leaders. She went to Seattle to work with technical writers from Boeing. In Seattle, Cartwright also soaked up new ideas at a worldwide conference on teaching gifted students.

“I see this whole summer as bringing together diverse teaching areas and diverse content areas,” Cartwright said. “We desperately need a filter, a framework, an umbrella - new ways of getting teachers talking.”

English teacher Kathy Luden, who works at East Valley School District’s alternative school, spent two weeks working at Inland Empire Paper Co.

“It was wonderful. I learned so much about business,” Luden said. She job-shadowed someone new each day, learning about forestry, water quality, and above all, the day-to-day communication that goes on in the Millwood paper mill.

She also learned about work ethic.

“We worked long days. I got to experience the 3 to 11 shift and the 8 to 5 p.m. shift,” Luden said, wryly.

From learning how to calculate the height of a tree, to understanding the biology in purifying water that the mill returns to the Spokane River, Luden said her experience showed her just how strongly core academic subjects are related to work place skills.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)

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