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Teacher Training Key to Lab Success

Lab facilitators insist there's no substitute for proper training

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Horror stories are great! They capture your attention and hold you close to the edge of your seat right until the very end. Then when they’re over, you can take a deep breath and let your pulse rate descend to its normal level.

Horror stories are also lots of fun to tell, unless, however, they are personal. At that point they quickly morph into a full-blown nightmare that nobody wants to live through – much less relate to others.

In 16 years of working with Modules and Suites teachers, I have encountered a few classroom horror stories. Ironically, they all have a few elements in common. For the purposes of privacy and national security, I have changed the names to protect the innocent in the following recollections.

Overwhelmed – at first

Desiree was in her fifth year of teaching when the principal asked her to change subjects. “She was a little vague on the details,” Desiree recalled. “I remember something about a lab of technology and that I was going to love it.”

As it turns out, her principal was talking about a new Pitsco Modules lab. “I was really excited,” Desiree said. “That is until I started teaching in it. I was so overwhelmed that first semester I nearly quit.”

What the principal failed to tell Desiree was that lab wouldn’t be installed until the fourth week of school, and she had not been booked for Modules training – a deadly combination for any teacher who’s hoping that the start of a new school term will be a smooth one. “I didn’t know the curriculum, I struggled to figure out how to schedule and grade students using Colleague, and I was completely unaware of the resources within SIM,” Desiree lamented. “It was absolutely the worst time in my entire teaching career.”

After a few frantic phone calls and some gentle persuasion from her sales consultant, Desiree was able to attend training the following summer. “There’s no way to compare it,” she said. “The complexity of the lab plus the amount of technology make it impossible to facilitate without some training. My attitude did a complete 180 once I got the training and understood the design and process of the lab. Now I love it and wouldn’t do anything else. But if you would have asked me that first semester, well . . .”

Thankfully, Desiree’s story had a happy ending. Unfortunately, it’s not unique.

Doubly challenging

Stephan was a successful science teacher when he got the call to facilitate an existing Suites lab. “The lab facilitator and the principal who had pushed to have it implemented both left after the second year of operation. The new principal just had subs fill in for the first semester and then it was decided I would take over. You can imagine what kind of condition, physically, the lab was in.”

Not only did Stephan face the challenge of a new curriculum and management approach, but the Suites themselves were now missing several key pieces of equipment. Add to this fact that neither Stephan nor the new principal was aware that formal training on the system was available. “I went in completely blind. And the class and students really suffered because of that. We just tried to feel our way around as best we could, but for a couple of months we didn’t even know what was supposed to be in each Harbor station.”

This time it was customer service to the rescue. “I spoke with Dave Patterson at the corporate offices, and he really pushed me to get registered for a training seminar. Thankfully, my principal was supportive and I was able to attend a session in late spring.”

Stephan goes on to describe its impact. “First of all, when you finally understand how it’s supposed to work, I really got excited for the kids. Every day a new set of questions would get answered. I think it also helped to work with other teachers through a complete Harbor rotation and explore Encompass in detail. By the time I left, I knew I could get back and be successful with the lab.”

Schedule training ASAP

Two teachers, two different schools, two horror stories; and just like the ones you see on TV, they could have been prevented. One important lesson we at Pitsco have learned over the years is that professional development is essential to the success of a lab.

That is why we include two training “slots” with every proposal sent to a school. We work hard to ensure that our seminars adequately prepare each teacher for the challenges they are about to face. So regardless of whether you’re heading to a brand new lab or inheriting an existing one, make sure attending a Modules workshop is high on your “to do” list. It could keep you from living out your own personal horror story.