Supporting Excellent Science Teaching for Georgia

eObservations Blog

GSTA publishes the eObservations newsletter 11 times per year to provide our members and other science educators with a range of information that supports excellent science education for all students in our state. 

  • 21 Sep 2020 3:49 PM | Heather Cowart (Administrator)

    Tell me about your background as an educator - why did you decide to teach science? 

    That sounds like a question I should be able to answer in a few sentences, but as I reflect I think the path began in childhood. I was so fortunate to have amazing parents and what I like to describe as a feral childhood. By that, I mean I grew up in rural Georgia with dirt roads,  pine trees, oak trees,  a weeping willow, a creek, and lots of unscheduled time. I spent most days shoeless and outside. I made art using the various colors of soil I could find on our property. I built terrariums with the greenest, softest moss. I would host ants in mason jars for a time, feeding them a mixture of cane sugar and water, and then return them to their outside home after a few days of observation and tunnel creations. I would twirl sand and sing to pill bugs (aka “doodle bugs” or “rollie pollies”) as I tried to coax them out of their homes to reveal their amazing, ball-forming bodies.  In the evenings, my parents would take us to listen to a choral production of frogs or to be serenaded by Whip-poor-wills, one of my favorite bird calls to this day. So, I guess my simple answer is that fostered curiosity lead me to science education.  

    I took my first trip to another country without my parents the summer I turned 15.  I helped to raise the floor of a school that was flooding. I recall being struck by how happy the students were that they now had the opportunity to attend school more often, even in the rainy season. I connected this to my own life and the lack of opportunities my ancestors had to further their studies. They did not have achievement gaps.  They had opportunity gaps.  I saw access to education as a powerful bridge, a way to change the world. I liked that superpower, so I became a teacher.  I taught in both Georgia and South Carolina. I was a K-5 science specialist. I also worked for the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers (GYSTC) as a regional coordinator of the Gordon GYSTC and later as the Director of Programs and Curriculum for the State.  Prior to assuming the role of science program manager at GaDOE, I managed the Title II Math Science Partnership Grant which connected k-12 schools to higher education for professional learning.

    How did the President Award to Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) award influence your teaching

    It validated it. A few colleagues and I had approached our principal about using portfolios instead of grades. At that time, I was looping with 4th and 5th graders.  We received a waiver from the state and for four glorious years, I conferenced with students and parents, collected work sample with students that showed growth over time, provided written commentary and narratives, and formally met with families 3 times a year. Students selected evidence of learning for their portfolios, and so did I.  Our focus was on learning and growth over time. My students and I  did things because they were important, and we wanted and needed to know. We did science every single day. We grew wheat and compared our crop to the crops of researchers at the University of Georgia using a computer camera and video conferencing – which at that time was new! We took daily weather measurements to share with G.L.O.B.E. – providing data for  a real research project ground-truthing satellite data. And then I had to move to SC.  The PAEMST was recognized, and I was immediately a part of the district’s science leadership team and participated in the state science initiatives there. When I finally  moved back home to Georgia, the PAEMST community convened at the GSTA annual conference , and I met wonderful people who inspired me to keep growing. They continue to mentor me today.

    What type of resources does the DOE have for science teachers? Who else supports science with the DOE?

    I am a part of a wonderful team of 3 people at GaDOE. Keith Crandall is our science program specialist and Renee Shirley-Stevens is our special education and science content integration specialists. These two individuals have so much creativity, knowledge, skill, and heart.  I feel incredibly fortunate to work with them.  We have resources in 3 main places:

    • GaDOE Science Website – Professional Learning On Demand, newsletter archives, strategies for struggling students, choice boards, etc.

    • www.georgiastandards.org – Sample Instructional Segments and Sample Remote Learning Plans with supports for all learners

    • TRL (through your schools SLDS) or TRL Public Access – Same as georgiastandards.org BUT more resources – the newest additions to the GSE suite of resources- color-coded standards, templates, etc.

    NEW – We would like to host professional learning communities (PLC) for teachers this year: Grades K-2, 3-5, 6, 7, 8th, high school biological sciences and high school physical sciences. We hope to start these virtual communities this October with plans to also provide monthly webinars (some live, all recorded). To be notified about these and to receive information about how to join, send a blank email to one or more of the following email addresses below: ​

    Science K-5:

    join-science-k-5@list.doe.k12.ga.us​

    Science 6-8:

    join-science-6-8@list.doe.k12.ga.us

    Science 9-12:

    join-science-9-12@list.doe.k12.ga.us

    Additionally, we continue to partner with GPB to provide resources at Georgia Home Classroom. New videos of Georgia teachers providing instruction should be coming soon!

    What words of wisdom would you like to share as they begin this school year?

    Educators have obstacles every year, every day. This year, we have yet another one…a big one. Do not attempt to overcome it alone.  Surround yourself with positive, supportive people.  The most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself first. When you take a trip on an airplane, they always instruct you to put on your oxygen mask first, and then help others.  If you think of something you need, reach out to your district, to me, to GSTA, to the community. Sign-up to join a new GaDOE teacher PLC!  Many hands make light work, and GSTA has provided me with a supportive community my entire career.  Think about the GSTA’s phenomenon bank and GaDOE’s bundled instructional segments. One single phenomenon can address so many disciplinary core ideas.  

    I am reminded of a phrase I heard at a conference in the beginning of my career that has stayed with me for over 25 years, “Childhood is a journey, not a race.”   I am reminded about why I chose this profession, and how I got here.   As we think about instruction, let us focus on fostering curiosity. There is sense-making in play and opportunities to explore interests because students want to know.  Learning happens all the time, and science is all around us. Leverage that. Let it support what you do in instruction. We have an opportunity to facilitate wonder not just for students, but their families.  Thank you for what you are doing to provide opportunities for all students to ask questions and figure out, even in the face of enormous challenges.  You are brave world changers. You have superpowers. You are science teachers!

    With admiration, Amanda Brinkley Buice


  • 26 Jun 2020 4:18 PM | Heather Cowart (Administrator)

    By: Donna Barrett-Williams, President - Georgia Science Teachers Association

    A Framework for Science Education (NRC, 2012) outlines a vision for quality science education for ALL students.  The Frameworks notes that “concerns about equity should be at the forefront of any effort to improve the goals, structures, and practices that support student learning and educational attainment of all students” (NRC, 2012, p. 277).  Simply put, equity is at the heart of science and teaching, and education is a beacon of light for our students. Thousands of students regularly turn to their trusted teachers for their words, insights, and advice on how to manage the confusing world they see around them. (NSTA, 2020).

    The Georgia Science Teachers Association stands in solidarity with the African American/Black and Brown communities against racial inequities. We are committed to social justice and want to do our part to support science teachers and their students. We acknowledge the need for us to do more to live up to our guiding principles of embracing diversity, equity, and respect as we strive to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching for all. 

    The K-12 Framework and Appendix D provide resources for working with diverse student groups.  Organized based on the four federally defined accountability groups, English Language Learners (ELLs), low socioeconomic status (SES), students with disabilities, and students from major racial and ethnic groups, Appendix D includes case studies and instructional strategies related to diverse learners. Strategies emphasized include:

    • Understanding scientific concepts and not just memorizing them

    • Connecting scientific principles to real-world situations and phenomena, supporting engaging and relevant content and evidence-based investigations, models, and arguments

    • Developing a contextual understanding of scientific knowledge and solutions, helping students to become better informed and well-equipped citizens 

    • Providing specific strategies such as using project-based learning and place-based strategies, using multiple representations and culturally relevant pedagogy strategies to support ALL students

    The most important message is that ALL students need to be engaged in these approaches.  It is important ALL students are actively engaged in science.  This includes developing models, engaging in evidence-based arguments, and analyzing data.  The key is engaging students in an authentic experience and finding ways to help them make sense of science concepts. We need to avoid a deficit model whereby the assumption is that “some of our students can’t handle it” or this will only work for my “advanced” students. It is critical that we engage ALL learners in these practices.

    We know that as an organization that we need to do more to support teachers and students to deepen our understanding of equity, diversity, and social justice. We have had a focus on equity and we want to deepen that work. Equity was a conference strand at the 2020 GSTA conference and we had several keynote speakers that addressed issues surrounding equity. We know this is the right work for us to focus on as an organization. While we may be in different places in our personal journeys, we hope that we can support each other as we learn more about these important issues.  We’ve collected a series of resources to help us get started. Please reach out to your district representative and board members to let us know what you need. Book studies, professional learning, conference sessions – let us know how we can support you. I am committed to reading the books below.

    STEM Teaching Tools – Equity Resources

     National Science Teachers Association

    • The Science Teacher March 2020 issue featuring the theme “Social Justice in the Science Classroom”

    • May issue of Next Gen Navigator, focusing on social justice in the science classroom.

    • NSTA’s position statements here. 

    Resources on Racism and Social Justice

  • 26 Jun 2020 3:57 PM | Heather Cowart (Administrator)

    By: Dr. Patricia Morgan, President of the Georgia Science Supervisors Association

    Dear GSTA, 

    Over the past week, our mailboxes have been flooded with corporate messages about solidarity, outrage, and even a few calls-to-action. The larger conversation has been centered on racism in our justice system; however, equally important are the critical discourses we must now engage in as it pertains to the racial disparities and social injustices in science education. As a Black woman science leader, I have experienced marginalization and othering both during my schooling experience and throughout my career. I am taking a stand for racial and social justice for our students, those same students that we profess to love and support.  Many students receive schooling that acts as the source of their oppression. We have the power within our community of Science Ed to redress these injustices. Here are some real and actionable steps we can take to combat racism within our own curriculum in ways that will liberate our students from the oppression, marginalization, and othering that exist within the curriculum.

    Curriculum is NOT a set of standards. Curriculum is both prescriptive (planned interactions) and descriptive (experiences). Think of the curriculum as being your game plan in football. Standards are the rulebooks and are consistent throughout our state and are in place to ensure the fidelity of the game. However, there are aspects of the curriculum that varies and also impacts the game plan. These are textbooks, ancillary materials and consumables, labs, scientific discourses, hidden curriculum, AND learning experiences. Sadly, some students’ learning experiences, thus their game plan, are stained with racism, sexism, classism, and a multitude of other isms that oppress our students. School is just a microcosm of our society. 

    I loathe hearing “we need more time to digest this” or “there’s no silver bullet to fix this.” Because actually there is a fix, and our students shouldn’t have to endure another school year of systemic injustices as we grapple with our feelings. Our students do not have educational gaps, we have an educational debt that must be addressed and paid swiftly. Below I highlight five things we can do immediately to create equitable spaces in science:

    1. Critically examine your biases (implicit and explicit), privilege, and cultural competence. 

      a. Need help → Take Harvard’sProject Implicit Test. Also, watch and read the following:Your Privilege is Showing,The Danger of a Single Story,Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,National Museum of African American History and Culture, andCultural Competency.   


    2. Remove deficit-based languages from your vocabulary. For example, “those kids don’t speak English” vs. “my students are multilingual.”  

      a. Need help → Remove deficit language and instructional practices from your teaching toolbox. For example, stop teaching science content words in isolation of experience (e.g., seeSTEMTeachingToolfor tips).


    3. Question if your students see themselves reflected in the curriculum or are they the same dominant identity markers (cis white males)? For example, Chambers (1983) studied students’ depiction of scientists from 1966 to 1977 and found that 0.6% of elementary-age children drew a female scientist during his “The draw‐a‐scientist test.” Miller et al. (2018) continued this work with a meta-analysis of five decades of continued testing and found that now 28% of children drew female scientists.     

      a. Need help → Ensure your class posters and resources represent the children you serve. Also, partner with your families and community to explore and highlight your student’sFunds of Knowledge.


    4. Help students develop a critical consciousness so that they too become change agents. Most times (or just during Black History Month) we share positive narratives of Black people in STEM (i.e., Hidden Figures) but we fail to discuss and have courageous conversations about systemic oppression and abuse of Black people in Science (e.g.,  Henrietta Lacks and Cell Research, Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Beyonce, Serena and the High Mortality Rate of Black Mothers, etc.). 

      a. Teach both realities and have them challenge the current status-quo of the social order. Need help → Read and watch the following: But That's Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,Teaching Tolerance,Cooperative Children’s Book Center Diversity Resources,Teaching for Change,Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners,STEM Teaching Tools,The National Association for Multicultural Education,Social Justice: National Museum of American History Resources, etc. 


    5. Review course sequences and course offerings for children of color and disaggregate student placement in remedial, gifted, honors, and AP courses by ethnicity and gender. What does this data tell you? You may be surprised to see that for years, low-income/ high IQ students are steered away from gifted courses due to their teachers’ perception of their abilities, and children of color are steered away from more advanced and rigorous courses than their white peers. I’ve heard plenty of horrible excuses for this practice (e.g., “My students can’t read on grade level for Biology, so I am going to place them in Earth Science to start”). This is wrong and as someone that sat on the Earth Science Standards Revision Committee, I can ensure you that Earth Science is just as vocab intensive as Biology. The ugly truth is that we try to steer students away from Biology because it is a tested subject and tested subjects require accountability. 

      a. Critically review course entrance rubrics and staff these courses with highly qualified staff that want to teach diverse students. Need help → Read Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education, and Hierarchy and Discrimination: Tracking in Public Schools

    Sincerely, 

    Patricia Morgan, Ph.D. 

    Patricia.Morgan.PhD@gmail.com


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