My interest in science and the environment stemmed from engaging teachers who invested time into their classrooms. My interest in science was driven by compounding interactions throughout my K-12 education. Repeated and diverse exposure to the STEM field gives students the opportunity to explore their interests. Learning about science phenomena in parallel with positive experiences in science can lead to increased motivation in students to understand science concepts (Beghetto, 2012). By creating an environment for students to ask questions and explore science concepts freely gives them the opportunity to grow. When I started my master’s program last fall here at UW, I was passionate about providing these types of science experiences and engaging with students of all ages.
I got in touch with two third grade teachers in Cheyenne who were interested in incorporating research going on at UW into their classroom. A few of my lab mates and I met weekly with both classrooms via zoom for 30-minute sessions. The goal of these meetings was to explain research going on in our lab, have them make observations in their daily life, and to teach them to ask and answer questions in a scientific way. During our meetings, students could see us on their projector screen, but we could only hear them and see things they shared on a document cam. The format of these meetings usually started with students sharing something from the previous week that they observed, drew, or found. We would then introduce a topic for the day ranging from how to write in a science notebook, to the differences between social and eusocial bees. All of the content used was created by my lab mates and I and was framed around pollinator/science topics. These presentations were shared through PowerPoints and had embedded questions where we would stop and engage with the students. To conclude our meetings, we would answer questions from students. During this time the teacher would facilitate calling on students to answer or ask questions. A limitation to this format was visualizing the classrooms learning as a whole. It was great to see notes and drawings from a handful of students, but it was difficult to grasp everyone’s understanding and engagement. To get a better understanding, we met with the teachers a few times during the semester to get feedback. We also communicated weekly over email and the teachers would share questions from the students and we would frame the coming weeks lesson on them. Throughout the semester we were able to see the students thinking change from broad science questions, to more specific questions on pollinators physiology and behavior. With the help of the teacher, we were able to have engaging discussions with the students. Unfortunately, we were unable to implement some of the hands-on activities we planned to do in the spring due to the class being unable to meet with a change in school regulations.
This spring, my lab mate and I were asked by a teacher from a local high school classroom to assist their emotional learning (SEL) class in keeping bees on their school grounds. I have a beekeeping background, so I was excited to share my knowledge and incorporate a similar curriculum from the fall. For this outreach effort, we were able to go into the classroom while taking covid precautions. This group was much smaller than the third-grade class in the fall, and these students were freshman and sophomores in high school. We would meet weekly with this classroom for an hour at a time. Topics and content discussed with this class were similar to the third-grade curriculum we created, but minimal electronics were used to communicate. The goal of this outreach was to create a connection between the students and bees. Through discussion and activities, we aided an emotional relationship between nature and the students.
We would start off the day off with a daily check in question, and then introduce our topic for the day. Typically, we would show a 5-minute video and ask follow up questions for the students to answer. Then, we would facilitate an activity such as a scavenger hunt using their different senses, nature bingo, or making prints for their nature journals. All content was either original or based on curriculum from the Pollinator Partnership. We also focused on having the students work together on group projects. We wanted the students to take responsibility for these bees, so we had them assemble the hives and create pamphlets to alert the neighborhood of what they can do to create a better habitat for pollinators. Working in person with a smaller group of students allowed for us to connect with the students. Towards the end of class, the teacher would help us facilitate a debrief of how the activity connected to their emotional learning.
Having weekly conversations with the teacher of the classroom allowed for us to gauge if we were meeting the goals of the classroom. Bringing this emotional connection to the natural world provided the students with an outlet. I personally have found beekeeping to be a way to connect with the environment and reflect on my emotions. Being out in nature with these organisms can allow you to observe the colony’s function and how every bee’s role is important, just like every student has an important role.
Through both of these interactions, my goal was to foster a positive relationship with science and the students. In both classrooms I saw their thinking change in how they asked and answered questions about pollinators. For the third-grade classroom, they began to make observations in their everyday life and “think like a scientist”. For the high school classroom, I began to see them connect their emotional learning to pollinators through answering journal prompts and signify the role they play in other people’s lives. Both of these outreach efforts increased engagement and motivation around science and nature in the classroom.
- Duschl, R., Schweingruber, H., & Shouse, A. (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K‐8. Washington, DC: National Research Council.
- Beghetto, Ronald A., and Juliet A. Baxter. “Exploring student beliefs and understanding in elementary science and mathematics.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 49.7 (2012): 942-960.
- “Education.” Pollinator.org, http://www.pollinator.org/learning-center/education.