Trombly teacher spent part of summer in intensive program

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 19, 2012

 Trombly teacher Susan Howey, far right, spent a week this summer learning how to incorporate exploratory learning in her science and math lessons.

Trombly teacher Susan Howey, far right, spent a week this summer learning how to incorporate exploratory learning in her science and math lessons.

Photo provided by Susan Howey

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — After students left the classroom behind for some summer fun, fourth-grade Trombly Elementary teacher Susan Howey was ready to get down to learning as she spent part of her summer with other teachers from across the nation.

She spent a week in New Jersey in an intensive learning environment, learning how to make math and science come alive through exploration and project-based learning. The program was the Mickelson ExxonMobile Teachers Academy and only two teachers from Michigan earned a spot in this past summer’s program.

“I was pretty fortunate,” Howey said of being chosen, calling it “a real big honor to be able to get together with people from across the country.”

Howey called the program the best professional development she has had in 20 years. She said the teachers were treated like royalty during the fully funded week.

“As a teacher, I’ve never been treated with the respect that this program did,” she said. “We were treated like true professionals. They valued us for what we did.”

The program was packed with projects and learning experiences for the teachers that aimed to show them how important it is to let students come to the answers on their own by exploring material.

“We need to step aside and let them discover more,” Howey said.

“They talked a lot about our wondering,” she said. “What do the kids wonder?”

Howey said the instructors in the program were excellent, as well, and the program was challenging. The teachers had their days packed with math and science exploration, but were able to enjoy some time visiting New Jersey and New York City at night.

“It was kind of the best of both worlds,” Howey said.

That teacher interaction was beneficial in helping create a network of teachers who can look to each other for information and collaboration in the future.

“Now I have friends, other teachers across the country, that I can network with,” she said.

The teachers became the students, learning through doing, which left an impression on them.

“Our learning was so much stronger … instead of spoon-feeding it,” Howey said. “So much more powerful.”

District officials have taken note of what she did over the summer as well.

Superintendent Thomas Harwood mentioned Howey during a recent council meeting when talking about good news in the district.

“Susan Howey has had a very busy summer,” Harwood said, saying that she was one of the 200 chosen out of thousands of applicants for the program. “I applaud Mrs. Howey for her commitment this summer.”

The other teachers were also third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, because the program realizes that fostering a love of math and science exploration means reaching students early, Howey said.

The learning experience was invaluable, but Howey had another mission on her trip. Howey promised her father that she would get a hat autographed for him by golf legend Phil Mickelson, who partnered with ExxonMobil to create the program for teachers.

Her father, whom she would often golf with, died before she was able to go on the program. She didn’t make it to the program in 2011 after he died, but when they held a spot for her in this summer’s program, she made that a part of her mission. And, she just received word that the signed hat is in the mail — promise kept.

“He was so proud that I was going,” Howey said.

Other third-, fourth- or fifth-grade teachers who are interested in the program can apply through the end of October by visiting