Shark Teeth, Steinbeck, And More: Teachers Use Summer To Deepen Their Own Learning

Melissa Atkins, a science teacher in Florida for 25 years, has never before integrated science and technology in her teaching. However, she now has the opportunity to combine the two disciplines by participating in an enrichment program for teachers happening across the United States this summer. One aspect of this program involves using machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, to teach computers how to identify the teeth of an extinct giant shark. Atkins and 13 other science teachers from Florida will spend five days at the University of Florida learning about shark teeth and artificial intelligence. This program is specifically designed for teachers at the K-12 level and aims to revitalize their teaching methods, expand their knowledge, and bring new ideas into the classroom. Best of all, these programs often do not cost teachers anything to attend.

Atkins teaches science to students in grades 6th, 7th, and 8th who have special needs at Tradewinds Middle School in Greenacres, Florida. For her, creating an inclusive classroom environment where all students feel capable of learning is crucial. She achieves this by using project-based activities to make science more engaging and relatable to her students. Enrichment programs like the one she is participating in help her achieve this goal by broadening her own knowledge and bringing in new experiences. Atkins explains that many of her students rarely venture beyond their immediate surroundings, so programs like this allow her to extend their horizons. Teachers applied for this yearlong training and were selected based on their experience and interest in the subject. The program, hosted by the University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute’s Scientist in Every Florida School Program, is both free for teachers to attend and provides a $2,500 stipend upon successful completion. It is specifically targeted towards teachers who work in schools that receive Title I funds.

Cathy Hammel, a 6th grade science teacher at Frostproof Middle Senior High School in Frostproof, Florida, is another participant in the University of Florida program. She views enrichment programs as an opportunity to gain new experiences, learn new skills, and implement innovative ideas in her classroom. Additionally, these programs allow her to earn professional development credits to further her teaching certification. Hammel prefers hands-on professional development workshops as they enable her to see firsthand how the knowledge she teaches her students can have a long-lasting impact on their futures.

In addition to the University of Florida program, there are several other organizations that offer teacher enrichment programs every summer. One such organization is the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), which provides a wide range of programs in science, history, and art. Currently, NEH is hosting a program at Stanford University focused on the work and impact of American author John Steinbeck. Susan Shillinglaw, the director of the program, emphasizes that these programs are designed to equip teachers with effective tools for the classroom. Teachers who have participated in NEH’s enrichment programs have attested to their lasting impact. For example, Mary Ann Zehr, an English and history teacher in the District of Columbia, sought out programs like those offered by NEH throughout her second career. In 2015, she participated in a program about the transcontinental railroad’s impact on the United States, and the following year, she explored the writing, culture, and history of Appalachian people through another NEH program. Zehr was able to apply the knowledge gained from these programs to create lessons that introduced her students to new perspectives on Appalachian culture. She believes that these programs help teachers tap into their creativity and build connections with one another.

The knowledge and experiences gained from summer enrichment programs directly translate into improved classroom practice for teachers. They allow teachers to bring fresh ideas and perspectives into their teaching, making the learning experience more engaging and enriching for their students.

Atkins expressed, "I have transformed the dynamic of my classroom, shifting it from a conventional style to a more project-oriented approach." She emphasized her dedication to fostering a passion for continuous learning among her students, and she attests that her summer endeavors greatly contribute to this goal.


  • baileywilliams

    Bailey Williams is an educational blogger and school teacher who uses her blog as a way to share her insights and knowledge with her readers. She has been teaching for over 10 years and has a deep understanding of the school system and how to help students reach their goals. Her blog is packed full of helpful information and resources, so be sure to check it out if you're looking for help with your schoolwork!