Auburn University’s AMSTI Director Pam Norris highlights organization’s goal of engaging school system partnerships
As director of Auburn University’s site for the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, known as AMSTI-AU or Region 9, Pam Norris will tell you that her role is exciting because no day looks the same. From talking with state AMSTI leaders to attending classroom visits and trainings alongside math and science specialists, Norris is leading AMSTI-AU by example—helping carry out AMSTI’s mission of providing impactful science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, instruction and resources that empower teachers and students across our state.
“I get to experience the best of everything because I get a chance to work at all levels throughout our region,” said Norris. “I get to speak with AMSTI central office personnel to hear the vision they have for math, science and technology instruction, and I get to visit classrooms with our specialists to see the direct coaching and instruction. The awesome part is that on those visits, I still get to see some of the teachers that I originally supported while serving as a specialist.”
Norris’s journey with AMSTI, the Alabama Department of Education’s initiative to improve STEM teaching statewide, began in January 2009 when she joined the organization as a K-2 math specialist having taught kindergarten and second grade in Opelika City Schools. She was part of an NSF-funded initiative called Team Math and later served as assistant director for AMSTI-AU alongside Director Beth Hickman. This past June marked Norris’s first complete year serving as director for the site following Hickman’s retirement. This year also marks Norris’s 30th year serving in education.
“Having served as a specialist and now as director, I feel my job is to support our region’s specialists because they are doing hard work in the schools and are on the grounds supporting our students and teachers,” Norris said. “I want them to know I’m here for you—whatever you need.”
At Auburn’s AMSTI site, math and science specialists provide virtual and in-person professional learning opportunities for teachers, instructional resources and materials, and onsite teacher support in 15 school districts located in Barbour, Bullock, Chambers, Elmore, Lee, Macon, Russell and Tallapoosa counties. AMSTI-AU, along with Alabama Science in Motion, or ASIM, is part of the outreach program in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, at Auburn University.
Norris observed a shift in skillset and mindset during the COVID-19 pandemic, as AMSTI specialists had to transition quickly and think creatively about new ways to virtually reach students and teachers. As specialists fully re-entered classrooms this year, this mindset shift yielded useful technological tools that specialists can continue to utilize.
“Everyone’s skill set was challenged during that time, and we had to find alternate ways to be effective in the classroom,” shared Norris. “It forced us to strengthen areas in technology, communications and instruction. It has shifted our mindset because now, we know we’re able to do face-to-face instruction, but we still have the virtual format as a supplemental tool where we know we can also be effective.”
One of Norris’s goals for AMSTI-AU is to engage and connect with more school systems throughout the region and become a part of their math or science instruction for greater impact. Additional goals are focused on the coaching component, proficiency scales and the menu of services that regional sites offer. Norris added that another goal of AMSTI-AU is to promote Digital Literacy and Computer Science, or DLCS, by increasing awareness and implementation through DLCS training.
“Another goal of AMSTI is to foster ongoing professional learning after initial training sessions,” Norris said. “AMSTI has evolved to offer follow-up sessions which can increase long-term engagement. With follow-up training, there’s a greater chance of implementation and sustained programming within our school systems.”
Norris noted that teachers got to experience a rich variety of professional learning opportunities this past summer with science trainings held in Elmore County and math trainings held at AMSTI-AU’s headquarters in Opelika. On August 1, AMSTI-AU hosted a professional learning event at Opelika High School for TEAMS educators from Opelika City, Auburn City and Lee County Schools where math teachers dove into proficiency scales and science teachers created prosthetic tails to study animal adaptations.
“On August 23, AMSTI-AU was thrilled to host Sherry Parrish, author of Numbers Talks, for a keynote event at Southern Union State Community College that drew over 170 educators from Auburn’s Region 9 including administrators, math coaches, instructional coaches, central office curriculum personnel and many K-12 math teachers,” remarked Norris. “We have also offered Professional Learning Community, or PLC, sessions to educator teams following Parrish’s visit with the goal of sustaining what had been learned that day and forward planning for school systems.”
On August 26, AMSTI-AU staff embarked on a professional learning opportunity of their own by traveling to the Chick-Fil-A corporate office in Atlanta for an inspiring look into the consistently positive culture behind the organization’s professional service success.
“The visit was a wonderful opportunity for us to speak with their leadership and examine all the similar goals we want to work on for ourselves and establish in our region,” remarked Norris.
“At AMSTI-AU, we want to not only be a supportive, educational resource for our region, but we also want to serve as a community partner by being responsive to our school systems’ needs,” said Norris. “When systems call and need space to host a training or need people to judge science fairs, we want to be readily available and supportive of those type requests.”
“Beyond just offering our specialized knowledge, we truly want to be partners to improve math and science instruction throughout our entire region.”
AMSTI-AU is offering professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators this fall in areas of K-5 mathematics, 6-12 mathematics, K-8 science (foundational training is a prerequisite for attending science unit trainings) and math coaching. ASIM is also offering teacher trainings this season. For more information on AMSTI-AU’s fall trainings, click the links below:
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