Samsung Teacher Academy Explores New Era of Classroom Learning
Last week, Samsung Solve for Tomorrow (SFT) hosted its fourth annual Teacher Academy. The week long program is designed to empower educators to inspire their students and tackle real world problems, while exploring new ways of using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and problem-based learning. For the first time since the Academy’s launch in 2019, 35 teachers from across the country gathered together in-person for an immersive professional development experience building on Solve for Tomorrow’s focus on STEM, problem-based learning and various environmental issues.
Samsung Solve for Tomorrow is an annual national competition for public schools grades 6-12 that challenges students to work together to create positive change in their communities using STEM. From start to finish, these brilliant young minds are empowered and supported by teachers as they take the lead to push the boundaries of innovation.
Olivia Rowland, Math Teacher at Republic Middle School in Missouri and SFT State Winner, explained the impact that Solve for Tomorrow had on her students, “I teach in a rural school, so my students did not see how they could influence the rest of the world. They really poured themselves into this project, staying after school, coming in early and working during the day to finish it. To see that I cared about their ideas and that other people really cared about their ideas made it clear that they could make those differences and that they were really capable of it.”
Each Academy teacher involved in the program is an SFT winning alumni and has won their share of over $2 million in technology and classroom materials for their respective schools, in addition to gaining hands-on experience with problem based learning and mindSpark Learning professional development tools. Participants in the program were also awarded continuing education credits (CECs), a measure used to maintain up-to-date license and certifications in the field.
“It’s always such an incredible experience to see how these teachers are inspiring the next generation of change makers,” said Michele Mosa, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America. “The Teacher Academy is designed to provide its participants with an opportunity to recharge, while building critical skills and learning how to better empathize with their students. With 35 teachers taking part in this year’s program, the Academy creates a strong support system of likeminded individuals with unique experiences that will carry forward for years to come.”
The week kicked off on Monday morning with a trip to Project Farmhouse, the state-of-the-art sustainability center and event space in New York City. Here, the teachers packed seeds for urban and school gardens, while learning about GrowNYC’s mission to be a sustainable resource for New Yorkers and improve their community. With this year’s focus on improving food access and security, teachers were given the task of working in small groups to create a STEM-based, sustainable solution to be presented to a panel of Samsung employees and Academy teacher graduates the following day.
“Being empowered by a corporate company, such as Samsung, that is using their resources to make our lives better has just been great,” explained Jessica Abrams, STEM Teacher at Liberty Avenue Middle School in New York and SFT National Finalist. “We came here, we were welcomed, appreciated and actually put in a task that mimics what the students do at school. It gave us a first-hand experience of the entire project so that we could be better open facilitators when we get back to our respective schools.”
“I really liked being able to do the project, but I especially liked being able to do it with other teachers who are likeminded and want to be creative,” added Allie Langwald, Physical Education (PE) and Health Teacher and Athletic Director at Hope of Detroit Academy Middle & High School and SFT National Winner. “People aren’t always as excited about STEM as you are, but here everyone is excited to be doing what we’re doing and to be here. It’s nice to be in a room with people that think like you, want to step outside the box with you and that are just excited about education.”
After the day of visiting outdoor farmer’s markets, learning about everyday sustainable actions and developing their innovative solutions to combat food insecurity, the teachers spent the following day at Samsung’s North American Headquarters in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. The Academy teachers had a busy day filled with engaging discussions, panel presentations, a Samsung employee roundtable and even a tour of the company’s Executive Briefing Center filled with Samsung technology.
“As a female in technology myself, it’s actually a personal mission of mine to mentor female students entering STEM,” Davoudzadeh explained. “In the last 5 years, I’ve created clubs where I’m trying to inspire females. They see me as a teacher of a tech course and pushing out all of these innovative initiatives, and I’ve noticed that our female group grew about 10%. I have one student who I mentored and now she’s attending Stanford as a virtual reality developer. She is involved in so many different projects and doing amazing things. She told me that initially it was intimidating for her to go into computer science, but after being exposed to the different career possibilities, she started to see it as a career path for her, which I thought was really inspiring. I love doing that for young females.”
In addition to learning from peers, Samsung partnered with mindSpark Learning, a national nonprofit organization, to develop a curriculum that places inquiry-based problem solving at the forefront of learning, as well as enhance professional communication and leadership skills. mindSpark Learning seeks to empower educators through a cutting-edge, customized learning experience at three key pillars of community: education, industry and government. As part of the Teacher Academy curriculum, the teachers participated in a variety of mini sessions and activities centered around problem-based learning and sustainability education.
Harry Preston, science teacher at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School in Maryland and SFT National Winner, had a unique experience this year, having graduated from the Academy in 2021 and returning as a mentor this year.
“It’s always interesting to see the connection with other educators who have a similar belief and understanding that innovation education is viably important to students,” said Preston. “It’s difficult to sit in a standard class day-to-day and just be there. That hasn’t worked, it’s not going to work and I don’t know why we keep going back to it. We need to be looking at ways to give kids the opportunity to tackle problems and apply the knowledge, so they can retain it better. Until it becomes relevant, it’s always going to be one day instead of today. By doing things, they realize that today is the day.”
With this year’s Teacher Academy in the books, some of the participants shared advice for other teachers looking to get involved with Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow and Teacher Academy.
“I had a very different experience because I was a PE teacher that applied. I didn’t even know if I was allowed to apply, I even double checked,” said Langwald. “My advice is for any teacher; art teacher, band teacher, it doesn’t matter if you teach STEM. You can apply. You can do this, and you can win too. It’s an amazing opportunity and everyone should take advantage of it.”
Davoudzadeh explained the larger impact of the competition on students, “It makes learning more meaningful and more purposeful. It’s a personal connection, so yes, they build their community up, but they’re also developing critical thinking skills to solve problems. The more that they develop this skill, when they go out to start their real lives, they have more confidence to just accomplish anything they want.”
As September approaches right around the corner, Samsung is eager to continue supporting STEM education and the teachers who inspire the minds of young change makers across the country.
For more on how to get involved with Samsung Solve for Tomorrow, visit https://www.samsung.com/us/solvefortomorrow/.