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Professional Learning: A Teacher’s Best (STEM) Friend

Posted by YES Staff on Tuesday, July 2, 2024

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An Interview with YES and EiE’s Founding Director, and the Director of Professional Learning.

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Shannon McManus (left) and Dr. Christine Cunningham (right).

School’s out for summer, but the work continues on for the incredible Professional Learning team behind YES (Youth Engineering Solutions) and EiE (Engineering is Elementary)! Led by Professional Learning Director, Shannon McManus (Shannon), the 5-member Professional Learning team has a busy season ahead full of sessions, school visits and workshops, such as July’s Teacher Educator Institutes. As the team geared up to travel around the country, we sat down with Shannon and YES and EiE Founding Director, Dr. Christine Cunningham (Christine), to discuss what the PL team is up to, how it’s changed over the years, and what to expect in the future.

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PL Director, Shannon, leading a spring 2024 session on Designing Maglev Systems. Credit: C. San Antonio-Tunis.

Building a STEM Community from Scratch

The world was a different place in 2003 when EiE was first created, and in 2004 when it first offered Professional Learning (PL). Back then, there were no Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) standards for grades K-12, no “push for engineering across districts or schools,” Shannon said. “So, we would often see motivated educators coming to workshops to learn about how to do engineering in their own classrooms.”

What began with a single dedicated PL staff member in 2005 became, over the years, a bona fide team that worked to meet teachers where they were at in teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts.

Initially we were focused on only face-to-face workshops to introduce classroom teachers to engineering and help support implementation in classrooms,” Christine said. “As we grew and had more resources, we moved to additional spaces, offered materials about engineering writ large, and began to offer different types of workshops—that is, supports, for teachers, educators (TEIs), and materials for administrators.”


PL team member, Kendall, walks teachers through a Nightlights unit. Credit: B. Logan.

 As the PL team grew, so did its community. Soon, teachers who came to EiE to learn to teach engineering for their own classrooms became PL facilitators working to educate other teachers in their networks. Some of the PL team's oldest collaborations began when a couple of educators joined a PL “workshop [in the late aughts] and have been actively offering PL ever since,” recalled Christine. 

From Workshops to Winning in Class

While workshops, webinars and trainings help teachers build a strong foundation for teaching STEM concepts and pedagogy, the classrooms and unit lessons are where the real magic happens.

Explained Shannon: “It is difficult to distinguish between the insights educators gain through Professional Learning and the curriculum itself. Professional Learning helps educators feel confident, but the teacher implementing the high-quality curriculum is where the real transformation happens.”

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Former Professional Learning workshop attendees published research on EiE’s impact. Screenshot: Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER).

Those transformations are helping empower students to positively shape their environments and connect to engineering and STEM-related interests. From students learning to code in Central Kitsap School District, to after school STEM curriculum at Chelsea Public Schools, and being featured prominently during Massachusetts STEM Weekthe PL team (and the curriculum) have had an incredible impact on teachers and students.

Shannon recalled a recent conversation with a local Cambridge teacher and how “one of her most under-performing students” was inspired to create “the most amazing prosthetic leg during engineering time.” And for the Acceleration Academies and Summer Scholar programs in Cambridge, Cambridge Public Schools District Instructional Lead Teacher, Katisha John told Shannon “including engineering has saved their programs” for 5th-7th grade students working below grade level.

Looking Ahead: Professional Learning for EiE and YES


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A new name for a new era.

As some of our readers may have noticed, EiE recently transitioned into EiE and YES (Youth Engineering Solutions). Both programs offer the same beloved high quality, standards-aligned units for classrooms, as well as enrichment activities for out-of-school environments. And as the EiE family has evolved, so too, has the PL team.

“Now that there are engineering standards to adhere to,” said Shannon, “we often work with school or district-level folks to determine implementation plans that include Professional Learning. I think that is where a lot of our flexible professional learning options came to be – virtual, Teacher Educator Institutes (or our “train the trainer” model) were options that worked well for many schools and districts.”

The small but mighty PL team punches above its weight to connect to as many schools and districts as possible. Last year, the team hosted over 140 events, reaching some 2,300 educators nationwide and internationally. And there’s room for more.

“We are looking into new and innovative ways to connect with and support educators on their professional journeys,” Shannon said. “We are thinking about how we can use classroom video to support small doses of learning online and establishing a community of educators through social media so that folks can talk with and learn from each other. We are also looking into grants that will support more educators coming to workshops.”


Shannon leading a session at the recent symposium. Credit: B. Logan.

One such workshop is happening in a few weeks. The Teacher Educator Institutes (TEIs) are three-day workshops offering educators the opportunity to delve into the concepts and pedagogy that make for high-quality, engaging and fun STEM learning, with guidance and instruction from the PL’s exceptional team. In July, the PL team will be hosting a TEI for middle school and another for elementary school—which, courtesy of a grant, is available to all registrants for only $25.

For teachers unable to make it to the three-day events, the PL team periodically hosts one-day/one-off events, and regularly offers free webinars on a variety of topics. The multitude of offerings are all part of EiE and YES’s recognition of education’s evolving landscape.

“The space for professional learning is changing as schools and education changes,” Shannon said. “There are so many roadblocks and hurdles that teachers face when trying to do their best that we want to be sure we can offer them what they need, when they need it.”

Every teacher needs a best (STEM) friend. Thanks to YES and EiE’s Professional Learning team, they have one (or five).


Don’t miss the upcoming Teacher Educator Institutes for elementary and middle school students! Visit our website here for registration and details.

Interested in being a pilot tester for one of our units during the 2024-2025 school year? Click here for the application and details.

Written by YES Staff

Topics: Professional Development, Engineering is Elementary, Middle School, STEM Education, STEM Learning, YES Curricula, Professional Learning, Classroom, Christine Cunningham, Elementary School, Teacher Educator Institute

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