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:
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