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Samsung Launches Solve for Tomorrow STEM Teacher Academy


Evolving its commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, Samsung Electronics America, Inc. this summer launched the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy, with a weeklong professional development practicum held in San Jose, CA. Nearly 40 Solve for Tomorrow alumni teachers from 35 states attended, participating in hands-on problem-based learning activities, diversity and inclusion training in STEM and an externship experience at Samsung Research America and Samsung Semiconductor U.S. to learn about STEM career pathways for their students.

Teachers from 35 states attended the inaugural Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy, a week-long professional development practicum on problem-based learning.

“Samsung understands why Solve for Tomorrow alumni teachers are excited about teaching real, genuine STEM by pulling away from that textbook, because the real world doesn’t operate step-by-step,” said Harry Preston, a Teacher Academy participant and 7th and 8th grade science teacher at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School, in Baltimore, MD. “Samsung took their pedagogical cue from the Solve for Tomorrow contest in creating the Teacher Academy. They know that problem-based learning cultivates crucial professional skill sets for both students and teachers.”

The Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy, a new initiative and off-shoot of Samsung Electronics America’s national Solve for Tomorrow STEM contest for 6th through 12th graders, is intended to provide a long-term collaboration and professional development platform specifically for the unsung hero-teachers who empower and mentor school-aged scientists.

Teachers participating in the inaugural Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy in San Jose, CA, collaborate on a problem-based learning exercise to create an innovative STEM solution for addressing youth homelessness.

“After witnessing the incredible innovative thinking that our Solve for Tomorrow alumni teachers have inspired in our student contestants, it was a natural evolution of the program to develop a curriculum for teachers’ professional development that would support them in being champions of STEM education in their school districts,” said Ann Woo, Sr. Director of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America. “After all, these are the teachers who have incidentally helped Samsung create the legacy of Solve of Tomorrow and who will continue to inspire our future workforce for years to come.”

Teachers Becoming Students of STEM

The inaugural teacher academy in July brought together teachers who have each steered a team of their students to become state finalists, national finalists or national winners of Samsung Solve for Tomorrow, a public-school contest that challenges 6th through 12th graders to solve a problem in their community using STEM skills. Teachers were challenged with using STEM to create innovative solutions for combatting San Jose’s youth homelessness problem, guided by non-profit partner mindSpark Learning, and non-profit Techbridge Girls, which facilitated a workshop to deepen teachers’ understanding about roles of identity and gender in STEM.

From L to R: Robert Beard, teacher at George Junior High School in Springdale, AR; Amanda Mullins, teacher at Pineville Middle School in Pineville, WV; Harry Preston, science teacher at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, MD.

“Our group’s idea was to take an existing homeless shelter, rebrand and revamp it as a youth community center, with gamified solutions and tech resources that would make it make more sense for the kids,” said Preston who’s professional passion is getting youth of color involved in STEM, something he accomplishes as a teacher and as a leader of after-school and summer-camp STEM programming for kids in his school’s inner-city neighborhood.

Preston says his students and campers have gone on to careers in healthcare, software design, business and even fashion, having flourished in a unique atmosphere of discovery and problem-based learning that Preston created. He is just one example of the type of teacher and approach to STEM education Samsung has continued to proliferate with its Solve for Tomorrow legacy.

During day 3 of the Teacher Academy, educators heard from Samsung Research America employees about their career paths in STEM.

“These teachers were already doing amazing things, but they typically don’t get the recognition or a high level of support they deserve,” said Michele Mosa, Senior Manager of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America. “We provided them with a professional development roadmap and a critical problem that needed solving, and they wowed us by devising STEM-based solutions overnight. They inspired each other, and they inspired us.”

That ripple effect has since continued beyond the week spent together in San Jose, Preston said, not only helping to foster lifelong friendships and openness to collaborate despite working in different school systems, but also broadcasted the week’s themes and discussions farther afield as teachers brought the inspiration back home.

Mary Cabral, far right, teacher at Mt. Hope High School in Bristol, RI presents her team’s solution for tackling youth homelessness in San Jose, CA using technology, as part of the Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy practicum on problem-based learning.

“[Solve for Tomorrow] Teacher Academy provides educators with a concrete path to follow as we build real career-ready skills,” explained Mary Cabral, language arts teacher at Mt. Hope High School in Bristol, RI and a Solve for Tomorrow State Winner during the 2018-2019 contest year. “All across America, the charge is to prepare students for the 21st century.”

All participants were assigned Professional Learning Communities, through which they will be working together over the next year in order to collaborate online and support one another throughout the academic year.

Educators participate in an empathy activity at City Team San Jose homeless shelter to inform their STEM solution for combatting youth homelessness as part of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy. From Left to Right: Sarah Betlejewski, teacher at Millsboro Middle School in Millsboro, DE; Alberto Alaniz, teacher from Sacaton Middle School in Sacaton, AZ; Anna Creamer, teacher at North Pole Middle School in North Pole, AK; Andrea Overton, mindSpark Learning facilitator; Cassie Banka, teacher at Goddard High School in Goddard, KS.

“The diversity training was eye-opening for me, particularly around gender, sexual identity and hidden bias,” Preston said. “I thought we needed to bring more of this training to teachers in my district, so I brought it to my union and we’ve voted to create a new section on equality and inclusivity.”

Cassie Banka, an engineering teacher at Goddard High School, in Goddard, KS, whose 2018-2019 Solve team was one of 10 national finalists, said the Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy electrified participants.

“It was so energizing and empowering to learn from teachers who are transforming education all over the country, and we’ll continue to grow together throughout the coming year through collaboration using mindSpark’s ignite platform as we promote problem-based learning opportunities in our areas,” Banka said. “Meanwhile, I’ve got these strategic tools and fresh resources to bring to the teachers I work with, so we can continue that positive feedback loop.”

From Left to Right: Jonathan Harvey, teacher at Cavallini Middle School in Upper Saddle River, NJ; Mark Schnably, teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Winston-Salem, NC; Drew Perkowski, teacher at Comstock STEM Academy in Kalamazoo, MI; Kevin Lay, teacher at Owensville High School in Owensville, MO.

Kevin Lay, a science teacher at Owensville High School in Owensville, MO, whose students won $100,000 in Samsung technology for their school through the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest in April, agrees.

“The mindSpark learning team and Samsung created a unique set of opportunities for us. Some of the principles presented were definitely outside our comfort zones, but still we were able to apply them to our own settings, within our own schools and districts, and that was a powerful learning experience that will have a real impact on the many thousands of students that we all serve,” said Lay.

Teachers Jennifer Underwood, from Iowa High School in Iowa, LA and Naomi Barak, from Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School in Brooklyn, NY give a presentation on the problem-based learning framework learned at the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy.

A Long-Term Investment in Learning

For Samsung, the investment in teachers of STEM is just a new chapter in the Solve for Tomorrow legacy as the company prepares to launch, in September, the application phase of this year’s contest, which also marks the program’s 10th anniversary.

“For nine years we’ve had the privilege of seeing students from all over the nation get involved in their communities with STEM projects that make a positive impact on difficult societal and environmental issues,” explained Woo. “We can’t wait to share what we have in store for this year’s contest, welcome new applicants and see the new ideas and inspiration that result from building a strong network of STEM enthusiasts and educators.”

This cohort of 38 teachers will continue to collaborate over the next 3 years through annual Teacher Academy events and through mindSpark’s ignite platform, which links students and teachers all over the U.S.

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