Big Ideas in Early Learning summer institute sparks “ah-ha” moments for educators

An energized group of more than 100 educators from across the country — including more than 40 Chicago Public School teachers — gathered at Erikson Institute to participate in the first Big Ideas In Early Learning summer institute held July 17 – 20. Big Ideas provided a fast-paced, interactive experience focused on a range of early education domains including: Technology, Language and Literacy, and Social and Emotional Learning. Distinguished from other education conferences by its mix of small and large group instruction, along with ample time for peer-to- peer discussions, Big Ideas was a successful example of how Erikson creates new and engaging ways to further our strategic goal of transforming the early childhood workforce.

“What’s unique about Big Ideas is the deep-dive educators take into a particular topic. It’s also a place to get your head around ideas and contribute what you know to the learning community,” said Chip Donohue, PhD, dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education; and founding director of Erikson’s Technology in Early Childhood Center.

Amy Burland, EdD, Dean of Education at Salish Kootenai College, a Native American tribal college, came from Montana to participate in Big Ideas. Burland also teaches math to primary school students and had attended Erikson’s Meaning Making in Early Mathematics Education (MEME) conference the week before Big Ideas.

“Big Ideas in Early Learning was incredibly valuable because it gave me solid strategies in facilitating my methods course for pre-service teachers,” Burland said.

She noted that her “ah-ha” moment came during the math track when she learned how to use building blocks in her classroom. “I saw the mathematical benefits of building a stronger foundation especially with difficult concepts like fractions,” said Burland. “I can now confidently show other teachers how to use these blocks all the way up to eighth-grade.”

Big Ideas attendees chose a track to focus on for the entire four-day conference. However, everyone began their day in a keynote “Big Talk” session where they listened to an Erikson faculty expert speak. Participants then broke into their tracks for hands-on learning and discussion. Each day ended with “Small Talk” gatherings where participants from all four tracks mixed together to discuss what they had learned individually and collectively.

Attendee Rachel Johnson, an instructional coach from the Virginia Preschool Initiative, signed up for the social-emotional learning track to explore this topic and learn tactics to empower the teachers she trains. “One of our school readiness goals is social and emotional learning,” said Johnson. “This training has been fabulous and I can’t wait to incorporate these new social and emotional learning techniques with the teachers at my school.”

Last year, Johnson also attended the MEME summer institute and she was so inspired that she decided to return for Big Ideas in 2018. Her “ah-ha” moment came when she learned the term “subitizing” featured in the top photo. She thought she knew a lot about math, but that term “really opened my eyes.” Subitizing is the ability to recognize a small group of objects and knowing how many there is in all. “I plan on working with Pre-K teachers to implement subitizing dot plates from 0 – 5 in their classrooms because foundational math is so important.”

Each day the halls at Erikson buzzed with conversations as Big Ideas participants built new relationships with other educators from across the country. Attendees shared victories, challenges and exchanged best practices with their colleagues. “Connecting with other teachers from different areas is eye-opening,” Burland noted. “We get to see the commonalities between teachers in big cities and rural areas because we are all teaching children that are the same in a lot of ways.”

At the closing keynote on Friday, July 20, educators were encouraged to continue strengthening their work in early childhood education. “We have 100 educators excited to go back to their classrooms and take the big ideas they’ve learned and put them into practice in their communities,” Donohue said.

In 2019, educators can expect an exciting second year for Big Ideas that will challenge them with new ways of thinking about early education, networking with fellow educators from across the country, and having a fun time connecting the dots with literacy, technology, math, and social and emotional learning.

 “Big Ideas will build on the success of the inaugural year, and will continue to inspire educators across the country to think in new, bold, fun ways about how they work with the children they serve, and how they can enhance their learning lives,” said Matthew Zaradich, associate director of Continuing Education at Erikson. “What we’re doing here with Big Ideas really is the best of what Erikson has to bring to the table: ensuring that educators are prepared to make positive changes in early childhood education.”

If you are looking for quality professional development in early childhood education you can learn more here. Next year’s Big Ideas in Early Learning will take place at Erikson Institute’s convenient Chicago location.

Featured photo credit: Sandra Steinbrecher ©Sandra Steinbrecher 2018