Educator Currents



Beta Class

Shelena Thomas discovered a problem shortly after she stepped into the old laboratory at Tishomingo High School five years ago. She was just starting her new job teaching chemistry in a newly constructed classroom, but the old lab it replaced still contained vials of old, sometimes unstable chemicals that had been collected over several decades.

Thomas had a master’s degree in biotechnology and countless hours of lab experience, but knowing how to dispose of a litany of reactive compounds was nearly overwhelming. She managed to do so, but it got her thinking about a project she is now working on with the help of a unique Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) leadership program.

“As a science teacher, I’ve realized that we’re not trained or educated enough on laboratory safety,” Thomas said. “In order to coach, you have to go to a required class … but there’s no sort of workshop that requires us (science teachers) to get trained to work in a lab with students.”

When Thomas heard some other teachers talking about an application to join the first class of OSDE’s OKMath/OKSci Leadership initiative, she saw an opportunity to make labs in Oklahoma schools safer.

OKMath/OKSci enables teachers to gain leadership skills and expand their reach beyond their own classrooms. Over the course of each year, a new class meets in person and virtually to discuss projects, develop professionally and seek ways to improve math and science education in Oklahoma.

The 31-member inaugural class graduated this past summer. Each member chose a keystone project aimed at solving a problem facing STEM education in Oklahoma with the potential of continuing long after his or her class graduates. Thomas was part of that class, and credits it with helping her launch a long-term initiative to improve lab safety in the state. 

“My immediate goal is to get a lab safety manual put together as a resource for all science teachers in Oklahoma,” she said.

From there she hopes to keep developing the resource, eventually designing a statewide training class.

“You start with small steps,” she said. “I expect to stick with it until I see it through.”

Empowerment is a theme that comes up often when OKMath/OKSci participants talk about what they gained from the program. It’s what prompted Sarah Vann, a science teacher at Owasso Eighth-Grade Center, to apply in the first place.

Good teachers focus on how best to serve students, Vann said, but that focus can sometimes make teachers forego opportunities to connect with each other and improve education on a broader scale.

“If teachers were to look around and dream big, the impact they could have on a state level would become more apparent,” she said.

As Vann began to network with fellow science teachers in her OKMath/OKSci class, they brainstormed ways to share resources and connect with other educators around the state. Now Vann and five other teachers from her graduating OKMath/OKSci class are developing an online community for Oklahoma science teachers. 

The site will include, among other things, blogs where teachers can share good classroom practices, stories on teachers doing great things and a resource page fleshing out the new science standards.

“I think the biggest thing is the fact that there were no boundaries placed on us,” Vann said. “[OKMath/OKSci] empowered us to have a vision, and it gave us support to have that vision.”

Shawn Sheehan came to OKMath/OKSci with a different focus than many of his classmates. As a special education teacher at Norman High School, he wanted to strengthen his content background in math.

“Normally, you go to professional developments and it’s always special ed stuff. I was never around math people,” Sheehan said.

After being a little intimidated by stepping outside of the usual boundaries of his position, Sheehan said he adjusted quickly and began learning from his colleagues right away.

“What’s happened is I’ve come back with my Algebra I team here at Norman High School, and we’re revamping the curriculum,” he said.

Sheehan’s goals extend beyond his own school. For his keystone project, Sheehan set out to change the public perception of teaching and increase the value of the profession. He started making videos of educators talking about their passion for teaching and posting the clips to a Facebook page for his “Teach Like Me” project.

One of his videos was screened in July during a general session of the Vision 2020 education conference in Oklahoma City. Just before the school year started, Norman Public Schools shared a “Teach Like Me” video at its districtwide employee meeting.

“It has been so well-received that I have been really beside myself,” Sheehan said. “It’s surreal that people are eager and hungry for this positive message.” 

The videos are just a start. Sheehan hopes to keep expanding the reach of “Teach Like Me” for years to come and branch out into other programs. What started as a keystone project in his OKMath/OKSci class has turned into something much bigger. 

As things begin for the next class of OKMath/OKSci, which met for the first time during a session of Vision 2020, members of the first class are trying to stay in touch and beginning to work on their projects.

“It’s just life-changing,” Shelena Thomas said. “It has transformed me. I would recommend it to every teacher.”


Watch OKTOY finalists videos now

2015 OKTOY

The next Oklahoma Teacher of the Year will be named Tuesday, Sept. 16, in a ceremony at the Oklahoma State Fair. You don’t have to wait until the big announcement to meet the finalists, though.

OSDE has already posted all the videos finalists submitted to its Vimeo account.

Get ready to know the 2015 Teacher of the Year by stepping inside these great educators’ classrooms and hearing them talk about the profession.

View the videos here.




From the Superintendent's Desk: After the waiver

State Superintendent Janet Barresi writes about what will happen now that Oklahoma has lost its waiver from the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) in her latest column. Returning to the NCLB “means greatly reduced autonomy for schools and districts, a lot more record-keeping and documentation, and additional headaches for teachers,” she writes.

Read the full column here:


Introducing PASS Plus Academies | Register Today


The Oklahoma State Department is kicking off a statewide series of workshops for educators who want to learn about using Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards effectively.

PASS Plus Academies are free professional development opportunities for PreK-12 English language arts and math teachers. These sessions will offer suggestions for enhancing instructional effectiveness using evidence-based activities. Participants will learn how to increase the rigor, relevance and resources for Oklahoma PASS standards.

The academies will take place across Oklahoma. Here’s the list:

  • Durant - Sept. 29
  • Idabel - Sept. 30
  • Talihina - Oct. 1
  • Tahlequah* - Oct. 2
  • Guymon - Oct. 6
  • Woodward - Oct. 7
  • Chickasha - Oct. 9
  • Ada - Oct. 10
  • Tulsa - Oct. 20
  • Pryor - Oct. 21
  • Oklahoma City* - Oct. 24
  • Weatherford - Oct. 27
  • Altus* - Oct. 28
  • Duncan - Oct. 29
  • Ponca City - Nov. 10
  • Okmulgee* - Nov. 12
  • Kingfisher - Nov. 17

*These sites are tentative and registration is not yet available for them.

To register for a PASS Plus Academy, go to:


Reminder: Register for AP training workshops

English, math, science and social studies teachers in grades 6 – 12 are invited to attend a series of free two-day workshops being held across the state.

The OSDE Advanced Placement office is once again facilitating the training sessions, titled Best Classroom Practices, with College Board. They will take place at eight locations throughout the state September through early November. The first one starts Sept. 18, so register today!

View schedules, dates, locations and workshop descriptions here.

Register at this link

AP Teachers

AP Grants applications open

The OSDE is once again seeking applications for Advanced Placement (AP) Grants. As in the past, four types of grants are available: First Time Materials and Equipment, Second Time Materials and Equipment, Vertical Team and Training Grants.

All applications are due Dec. 5, 2014.

A description of the types of grants available and the applications themselves can be accessed here:


Group asks students across nation to sing anthem

A national service-learning initiative is calling on students across the country to simultaneously sing the United States national anthem Sept. 12 at 12 p.m. central time.

The 9/12 Generation Project, an educational division of the New York Says Thank You Foundation, is leading the effort.

Over 300 people from that group traveled to Oklahoma last weekend to mark the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks to assist with construction in the wake of Oklahoma’s 2013 tornado outbreaks. They were joined by students from Bethel Middle and High Schools on one project.

The motivation behind the 9/12 Generation Project and the New York Says Thank You Foundation is to teach character by focusing on the volunteerism and compassion that brought the nation together the day after the attacks. That’s why every year they choose a project somewhere in the country where they can help “pay it forward.”

Now they hope to bring students across the country together to honor the American legacy all at once.

“We’re hoping that on 9/12, we will see and hear the world come together just as we did on September 12, 2001 by singing our National Anthem,“ said Mia Toschi, national director of the 9/12 Generation Project. “It’s important for students to understand the words and meaning of our National Anthem especially as we celebrate the 200th anniversary this year.”

Toschi said there are 500,000 students in the 9/12 Generation Project family of schools and she hopes  there will be millions of students singing Sept. 12.

Students, parents and teachers can learn more about the national anthem and the flag by visiting “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem,” created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

For more information in the event, visit


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