Beyond the




Creative STEM Professional Development Activities to Plan Now

A police office peers through a magnifying glass with an animated facial expression.

There's a great STEM professional development opportunity waiting for you by land, air or sea!

Back-to-school supplies are filling store shelves now, but there’s still time to have fun and rack up Professional Development (PD) credit at the same time. Unique and interesting PD opportunities are hard to come by, but if you think out of the box, you’ll find a myriad of STEM-related activities designed just for teachers. 

If you’re already in the swing of a workshop, see if your school will transform it into PD credit. PD rules are different for every school district, though, so prior approval may be necessary if you want the credit. Districts are looking for opportunities to give back to the community, so they may have some opportunities in their community outreach efforts. In the meantime, here are a handful of ideas for you to check out: 

Further Reading: Education Conferences Are a Great Place for Teachers to Grow

1. Civil Air Patrol (CAP)

If you’ve ever flown and want to know more, locate the nearest CAP squadron. Find their education officer and ask if they offer an Aerospace Teacher Workshop. The ones I’ve attended welcome teachers in every subject area-not just STEM teachers, and I’ve sat in the room with art, history, english, and science teachers. 

In CAP classes, teachers do a check out flight in a Cessna 172, learn the history of Aerospace, and visit the airport. Additionally, you can join the CAP as a teacher member for a nominal fee, and receive a box of lesson plans and textbooks. CAP membership gives you access to more than a dozen free STEM kits.

In Tennessee, where I live, CAP offers an Advanced Aerospace Workshop every other summer. When I participated in this, I also received ground school and 10 hours of flying with an instructor. Because we’re near a National Guard Air Base, I also had the opportunity to fly on a KC-135 refueling mission. I sat in the back and watched as an Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft was refueled.

2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or other research opportunities

NOAA lists about 35 educator opportunities. And if you’ve ever felt the wide-open seas calling you, the NOAA will be taking applications soon for their Teacher at Sea Program. Any teacher, pre-K through post-secondary teachers, can apply for a hands-on research experience working at sea with NOAA scientists. This opportunity gives teachers insight into oceanic and atmospheric research.

But if nautical adventure isn’t exactly your thing, check your local college or university for research opportunities. I am in the running for a four-week stint that pays a handsome stipend to make lesson plans for K-12 energy-related classes.

3. National Parks

The National Park Service Teacher Ranger Teacher (TRT) program is an extended professional development opportunity for educators from K-12 schools to learn about the resources and educational materials available through the National Park Service. Teachers participating in the Teacher Ranger Teacher program will have the opportunity to engage in parks and park resources, participate in a webinar about lesson planning, develop at least one lesson to be used in their classroom or school, assist the park with an education project, and increase their understanding of place-based learning. 

National parks and battlefields will often conduct plant, animal, or soil surveys that they need help with, as well as repairing structures or trail maintenance. See if there are opportunities near you to join in these efforts.  

4. Archeology Digs

This can be hot, tiring work, but you may be part of a big find that you can brag about to your students! There are numerous opportunities throughout the country to participate in archeology digs. 

Several organizations provide opportunities and resources for educators to learn about teaching archaeology, including programs that bring archaeological lessons into the classroom, and ones that get students and teachers directly involved in archaeological research. With Passport in Time (P.I.T.), the USDA Forest Service accepts volunteers to assist with archaeological surveys and excavations on national forests. The P.I.T. website lists projects currently accepting volunteers. The Center for American Archeology offers summer archaeological training programs for students 14-17 years, as well as an adult field school, which includes excavation and laboratory analysis.

If you want to participate in something short, before heading back to school to set up your classroom, consider the Earthwatch Institute, which offers short-term volunteer opportunities for educators to assist scientists in the field. You can even apply for education fellowships to help you participate in this in the future. 

5. Local Airport, Fire, Police

Airports owned by local municipalities are tasked with giving back to the community. Often they will have an “Aviation Academy” for adults. This academy focuses on
Security (Transportation Security Administration or TSA), fire fighting, luggage handling, aircraft maintenance, and passenger relations. 

Fire and police departments often introduce civilians to what they do as part of their community outreach programs. No matter what you teach, you can incorporate lessons learned in one of these academies. Check your local public service departments to see what’s available. 

Finally, always check out your state education website for extra opportunities. Sometimes districts budget for teacher training. This summer, I’m participating in a three-day energy training at a local state park. We will earn 17 hours of PD for this, and I’ll take back some new ideas to the classroom this fall.

Further Reading: Networking for Teachers: 7 People and Places to Turn To

Whatever you do this summer, remember you’re a teacher not only for how you can help youth but for your own love of learning as well. Take advantage of this time to delve into the subjects that interest you so you can channel that knowledge into your lesson plans this fall.