I am writing this post from the annual conference of Learning Forward, an organization whose mission it is to “build the capacity of leaders to establish and sustain highly effective professional learning.” When I became the Mathematics Coordinator at the Fresno County Office of Education in 1998, I turned to this professional organization (then called the National Staff Development Council) for ideas and support to improve my skills for working with teachers. Over the years, their journal (JSD), their publications, and their conference became my go-to for professional support and I incorporated their work into everything that I did. This spilled over into my work with the San Joaquin Valley Mathematics Project, California Mathematics Council, and even my work as a principal in Central Unified.
At the AIMS Center for Math and Science Education, we have three distinct divisions (which I have spoken of in prior blog posts): Professional Learning, Research, and Support. I came to the conference with my Director of Professional Learning, but I have come to realize that everything the AIMS Center does is about Professional Learning. Everything that we do can be influenced and perhaps improved through the work of Learning Forward.
Yes… our Professional Learning Division facilitates on-site workshops, sustained professional learning over time, online Professional Learning Communities for our participating teachers, and more. These are all structured around the high quality tasks that the AIMS Education Foundation has developed over the past 30 years, with a goal of helping teachers incorporate engaging, hands-on tasks into their everyday teaching to improve students’ experiences in learning math and science. It seems obvious that Learning Forward is a professional organization that provides support for this work.
We know that empirical research on how children learn and progress through foundational stages of understanding has already been published and is sitting on the shelf, but it has not reached classrooms. Our Research Division is charged with the challenge of bridging this gap. They are working to translate this research, to develop classroom practices and structures that allow teachers to recognize stages of students’ mathematical development, and to help teachers learn to make curricular decisions based on their knowledge of these critical stages. This is professional learning, but a very different model. Learning Forward, again, is the professional organization which can provide support for this work.
Our Support Division is heavily involved in marketing our offerings, designing online courses and virtual PLCs, providing the infrastructure for our colloquiums and our podcasts, and more. They are deeply involved in developing our video collection so that translation of research findings is supported through evidence from children. Yet again, Learning Forward provides relevant resources supporting this work.
For me, this was a bit of an epiphany this week… For the past 30 years, the AIMS Education Foundation, even though staff facilitated thousands of workshops, has been recognized nationwide for their tasks – Activities Integrating Math and Science. For the most part, AIMS was seen as a publishing house. The AIMS Center for Math and Science Education has truly become an organization committed to professional learning. I found my professional home with NSDC in the late 90’s and have recently come back home, now to Learning Forward . I am so thankful for this organization and the resources I have re-discovered!