North Country master teachers swap trade secrets

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Posted: Monday, March 10, 2014 3:28 am

PLATTSBURGH — Peru Central School teacher Jenifer Jensen is on a quest for more innovative ways of sharing knowledge in her classroom.

The seventh- and 10th-grade science instructor would like to get her students excited about the real-life applications of their coursework, she said, “rather than just teaching them what we find in the textbook.”

Jensen is now able to learn and share new teaching methods with fellow educators, as well as access numerous other professional-development opportunities, thanks to the New York State Master Teacher Program at SUNY Plattsburgh, which launched in October.


She is one of 21 math and science teachers, who collectively represent 14 school districts in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, selected to comprise the program’s North Country cohort.

“Because we now have this arena of all of us being together, we can bounce ideas off of each other more easily than we could if we were just on our own,” Jensen said.

The four-year program, sponsored under an initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and intended to enhance math- and science-technology education, includes four cohorts across the state, comprising more than 100 teachers.

This spring, a second round of teachers will be selected to join the North Country’s existing cohort, which is coordinated through the North Country Teacher Resource Center and receives additional support from Clarkson University.


While all participants receive a $15,000 stipend for each of the four years, noted program co-coordinator Kathleen Fessette, the work they are doing as master teachers goes above and beyond their classroom duties.

Master teachers attend cohort meetings at the Resource Center and are also encouraged to meet on their own and plan and attend other events aimed at professional growth.

“Just in the meetings that we’ve had, we’re already pushing each other to be better,” said program participant Rebecca Shuman.

The topics of discussions and sessions are determined based on what areas the teachers feel they need to develop in, the curriculum they wish to add to their classes and the resources they would like to use, according to the seventh-grade science teacher from Saranac Central School.

“And then we put it together and teach each other,” Shuman said.


For example, she and Jensen recently took part in a four-week workshop on “flipping the classroom,” a concept that, Jensen explained, involves “taking the teacher off of the stage and having the students have more control over how they’re learning the material.”

The workshop, she noted, took the form of a professional learning community, in which participants shared with one another their knowledge of the topic and how to implement it.

“That’s really what it’s all about is building a community of math and science teachers who are excited about learning and working together,” Fessette said.

Program participants are also presented with periodic “mental-floss challenges.”

For example, they have been asked to investigate how science and math are used in the daily operations of local businesses and to make one-on-one connections with college-level instructors in their subject area.

In addition, the master teachers will be providing training to pre-service and early-career educators through their involvement in activities, such as a summer institute for area science, technology, engineering and math teachers.

“I don’t see there being an end,” Jensen said of the professional growth made possible through the program.

“I think right now we’ve made connections that we’re going to keep for the rest of our teaching careers.”

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