Students Win Awards, Plan State-Wide Education Conference

Education majors at Penn State Brandywine left the Student Pennsylvania State Education Association (SPSEA) conference in Pittsburgh this month with a lot to celebrate.

Senior Heather Heacock won third place in the state in the Learning Center Competition, and junior Victoria Gramlich was elected region president for the southeastern area, replacing another Brandywine student, senior Amy Moore. Gramlich, along with senior Justin Bush, also submitted learning centers to the competition.

The learning centers are interactive creations built by the students to be used in the classroom to teach lessons. Conference attendees--education students and teachers from universities throughout Pennsylvania--judged the centers and chose winners.

Heacock's center was called "Recycling" and the purpose was for the kids to "have fun and recycle," she said. After completing various activities, such as identifying objects that are better for the environment, leading a boy to a recycling center through a maze using soda can tabs and putting recyclable items into the correct bins (all created and labeled by Heacock), the students will earn a certificate that labels them a "Recycling Star."

Bush designed a learning center called "Biodversity," which featured five games to teach kids about the various organisms on earth and how they're different. His trifold included a Price is Right-style wheel with a pie chart of all of Earth's species of organisms and facts about each. He included a game called "Name That Species," a Tic Tac Toe game where students had to pick an animal as their token and at the end the winner would describe its natural habitat, a jigsaw puzzle and the hierarchy of biological classification.

The students hope to use their learning centers in their own classrooms when they become teachers.

In addition to the learning center competition, the conference offers students a chance to network with their peers in the state, share information and engage in professional development, said Instructor in Education Jean McKay, who serves as the campus SPSEA Club adviser and also attended the conference. 

"They get to hear from their peers and veteran teachers in the field," she said. "They don't tell them how to think, they help them make good decisions."

McKay said the conference allows the students to ask questions about what salaries they should expect after graduation, how to set up parent-teacher conferences and covers topics such as special education and technology in the classroom. They even heard from an attorney who coached them on the dos and don'ts of Facebook for teachers.

In an effort to continue the conversation, several of the students are working hard to bring the group to campus next September for a conference they've named "So You Think You Can Teach." They received a $2,500 grant from SPSEA and an additional $1,500 from the campus' Student Government Association, which will allow the students to invite their peers for a full day of professional development right on campus. They're expecting nearly 250 students from around the state to participate in sessions throughout the day.

"It's for the students, run by the students to present workshops on education," McKay said. "They wrote the grant, they pursued it. I just guided them. We're very proud of them."