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Leading Teachers Focus on Sustainability Education


Recently, the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow program, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) competition that challenges public school students in grades 6-12 to showcase how STEM can be applied to help improve their community, hosted its third annual Teacher Academy. The Academy is a two week-long program offering teachers from across the U.S. a unique professional development experience designed to build and sustain a culture of STEM teaching and learning, with an enhanced focus on sustainability initiatives in their communities.

The 2019 cohort wrapped up their final year with the Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy. (From top left) Vicky James (mindSpark Learning), Tom O’Neill, Mary Cabral, Robert Beard, Brittany Buxcel, Elena Goldsmith, Wendy Wardell, Steven Fung, John Leistner, Dr. Tami Sanders, Lisa Hitt, Kevin Lay, Mark Schnably, Harry Preston, Cassie Banka, Sarah Betlejewski, Randa Finn, Drew Perkowski, and Miranda Dahlke.

The participating Academy teachers are all Solve for Tomorrow alumni who collectively earned over $1,500,000 million in technology and classroom materials for their respective schools this year. Sixty-six teachers from 38 states continued or began their remote learning journey, attending Academy sessions supported by Solve for Tomorrow partner, mindSpark Learning. The curriculum included exercises that tackled how to implement problem-based learning (PBL) and how to create an empathetic learning environment.

The inaugural cohort came together in Silicon Valley in 2019. For the past two years, this cohort and the second cohort have met virtually for the academy—only highlighting the dedication these teachers have to the program and Solve for Tomorrow.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, first-year Academy teachers from the 2021 cohort focused their efforts on sustainability related education.

Teachers heard from a variety of organizations that focus on e-waste, including EcoCycle.

“This year, we asked our newest group of Academy teachers to look at unique ways to tackle sustainability education in their classrooms and present ideas through mini sessions with other teachers and Samsung employees,” said Ann Woo, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America. “At Samsung we are focusing on achieving tangible, data-driven sustainability across all our products, operations, and community engagement programs like Solve for Tomorrow. Additionally, our first cohort of teachers wrapped up their time with the Academy. These teachers are able to use the skills they have learned to lead SFT Academy sessions of their own. The peer network that the Academy has created has proven to be invaluable and will only strengthen the Solve for Tomorrow network of teachers and students, and result in the next generation learning how to solve urgent problems like climate change.”

At Samsung we are focusing on achieving tangible, data-driven sustainability across all our products, operations, and community engagement programs like Solve for Tomorrow.

Teachers participated in community scavenger hunts, mini sessions, problem-based learning presentations and more. Over the years, Solve for Tomorrow projects have focused on local environmental issues from recycling and climate change, to the use of natural resources, to local wildlife and more. The academy had teachers take the problem-based learning approach and apply it to environmental issues that communities may be facing.
“E-waste is something I was unaware of as being a problem,” said Covey Denton, a K-8 teacher from Sallie B. Howard School of the Arts and Science in North Carolina. “I have always just taken old electronics to my local electronics store to be ‘recycled.’ I definitely think educating consumers about the hazards and need to recycle E-waste properly is important for the good of our environment.”

Brittany Buxcel, a teacher at New Ulm High School in Minnesota and member of Cohort 1, who after three years is ‘graduating’ from the Academy, says her time in the program has influenced and inspired her.

“Participation in the academy experience has helped me find my true passion of inspiring other educators to join in the SFT competition and make strides to implement PBL (problem based learning) into their classrooms. When I was in the classroom, it gave me the confidence to make the PBL “jump” with my students and trust in their ideas and solutions,” Buxcel said.

We asked teachers what piece of advice they would give to other teachers across the country who are considering participating in Solve for Tomorrow.

“One of things I’ve loved most about my students participating in Samsung Solve for Tomorrow is that I know that no matter what problem they work on, or how far they advance in the competition, they are going to have an authentic and transformational learning experience,” said Kirstin Bullington, a high school engineering instructor at Richland Two Institute of Innovation in South Carolina. “The Samsung Teacher Academy allows us as educators to also grow and challenge ourselves as professionals. I would highly recommend the Samsung Teacher Academy to any educators looking to stretch themselves.”

Huy Pham, an AP biology teacher at Westminster High in California echoed those sentiments.

“This is not your regular one-off professional development for teachers where you learn something and try to implement it on your own. The academy is interactive where you’ll learn something new every day from Mindspark, Samsung and fellow teachers. I am very grateful that Samsung is hosting this program for teachers. The Samsung Solve program provides an example to students that STEM is used in their everyday lives for a better community,” said Pham.

“Our team is blown away by the commitment all the teachers of the Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy have for improving upon their roles as educators for both students and their peers,” added Woo. “We are thrilled that they are bringing their skills to the next generation in this way, and are excited to see how environment and sustainability feature in their new lesson plans. Congratulations to our first-ever Academy “graduates” and we look forward to leading each new cohort that comes through the program.”

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