The last few weeks of my internships have been marked by setbacks and unique challenges. The most urgent tasks at CityScience in the last weeks of my internship were adapting existing curricula to be accessible to younger students. As a secondary educator, this was a real stretch for me. However, I drew upon my knowledge of children from babysitting experience, from conversations with elementary educators, from the Developmental Psychology course I took from the Education program, and from the occasional discussion of younger students in my Education courses. Making curricular adaptations that elementary educators considered to be sound made me feel validated as a flexible teaching professional, while my struggle to do so also confirmed the specificity of much pedagogical knowledge.
One of my major frustrations with the Hudson River Park throughout the summer was that everything was “written by committee.” I would spend days writing guides, consistent in my style and (I thought) animated by my passions. Three or four other people would then slice and dice it, and sometimes I was the slicer-dicer for guides written by other office staff. Rather than have one person in charge of a piece of writing and others act as editors and idea-bouncers, everything had a handful of authors and several administrators making differing requests for what information to include. The results were drab and lifeless guides for the environmental educators, which misses the most important thing we could possibly do to support those staff members in their work: get them excited to learn about the material and share what they learn with the public.
Despite these setbacks, my internship experiences were extremely positive overall. Most importantly, my internships endowed me with confidence as an educator. I walked into non-profit organizations that have been perfecting science lessons and activities for years and was able to make significant contributions. At CityScience, I curated a database of over 200 lessons into five more coherent inquiry science sequences, identified areas of the curriculum in need of development and presented that analysis to CityScience administrators. My curriculum development outline now sprawls across a large corkboard in the CityScience office, a road map for the organization’s future. I also created support materials for the CityScience summer day camp program including two "extra resources" sheets detailing relevant videos and books and ideas for incorporating them into the curriculum. I felt fully competent to provide pedagogical guidance to youth leaders, and was full of ideas to share with them. At the Hudson River Park, I created curriculum resources and teaching tools for the brand new Makerspace program.
Despite having no background in engineering, my background in play science learning and inquiry pedagogy proved a vital resource to this new initiative. My social justice teacher education also drove me to spread the word about the free educational programs in the park into lower income communities. Next year, the Park will undergo a permit process to post on community billboards in public housing. I am also still drafting a detailed guide to the nature walk program for future environmental educators to use as a launching point in the event that the current volunteers leading the walk choose not to do so any longer.
I leave my internships feeling like a valued professional. In addition to this confidence boost, I have expanded my repertoire of inquiry science teaching moves. Many more techniques and activities now come to mind when I think of teaching a certain science concept, and I also have copies of many lessons from CityScience and the Hudson River Park which I can modify for my classroom. Furthermore, for CityScience, I investigated the work of dozens of other science educations non-profits such as GLOBE, SOLAR1, and the Salvadori Center. I have made contacts at not only the two organizations where I spent most of my time, but also at the Billion Oyster Project and at the Botanical Gardens (at the latter, I spent one week sitting in on a professional development as a volunteer). As I enter my student teaching semester, I have a long list of places where I can turn when trying to teach science in an exciting and impactful manner. My next challenge in STEM education will be applying what I have learned this summer to the classroom, where standards, tight schedules, and tired students post obstacles to the passion for science I want to convey. I know that with the support of my teacher education program I can do this!
My proposed curriculum map at CityScience was a useful centerpiece for a discussion of where to begin developing new programs and how to go about tailoring our program to each individual classroom or community that requests our services. The hope is still to establish a system in which teachers or community program leaders can request one or two tracks for classroom instruction, then CityScience staff can draw from the well-organized materials to craft a program for that particular classroom, informed by school resources and conversations with the teacher, meanwhile moving away from providing single day classroom programming toward providing classroom programs a minimum of ten sessions long. My map revealed many deficits in our early childhood programming, which will be important to fill because of the upcoming expansion in pre-kindergarten access.
Meanwhile, I am helping to prepare for CityScience to support the STEM component of ten day-camps funded by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development. I used funding from the Department to purchase nearly thirty books that I selected to supplement our lessons in city planning, green energy, and mapping. At some camps, these books will help populate the “reading corner.” At others, counselors may read a science storybook to their group. I have also written a guide for camp personnel to the supplementary materials available from City Science and assembled links to some relevant videos available online. I composed discussion questions to accompany the videos. I performed a similar function for the Human Anatomy and Physiology unit we will be piloting in high schools this fall: I selected materials to purchase and wrote a guide to those materials for educators.
At the Hudson River Park, I have gotten some “hands-on” time preparing materials for the maker space programs, primarily cutting cardboard for participants to use as construction material along with box rivets. There is an intellectual component to that work as well, continually deciding what sizes and shapes would provide the richest engineering learning experience for a broad range of ages and abilities. At any rate, materials preparation is no small part of working as a science teacher. I have also distributed fliers for the park’s educational programs and submitted information about the events to several publications and websites. Doing so will hopefully attract learners to the lessons we’re creating! More often at the park, though, I am writing guides for the environmental educators to use when delivering these programs. These guides include the objective of the activity, background information about the STEM concepts involved, a step-by-step guide to the project, and lists of materials and tools along with information about why they were chosen and how to use them safely.
I continue to be exposed to a variety of science teaching methods at each internship, building a repertoire of techniques to take into my science classroom. Because my background is in science, not engineering, developing engineering activities for the Hudson River Park maker space series is expanding my horizons as a STEM educator. This work forces me to consider the subtle differences between encouraging innovation in engineering and encouraging careful observation and discovery in experiments. At the same time, I am coming to see how those skills are inextricably intertwined.
In addition, in the coming months, I will spend a week with the New York Botanical Garden, working to facilitate one of their teacher professional development workshops about using a school garden to teach botany and ecology. Because my goal for the summer is to gain a breadth of knowledge in quality inquiry science pedagogy, exposure to one more organization is an excellent opportunity!
At the Hudson River Park, I have begun to document the stops on the Sunday nature walk. The nature walk guide I create will help future Hudson River Park staff and volunteers continue the nature walk program when these volunteers are not available. In other accomplishments, I wrote the first of my series of bi-weekly blog posts about the nature walk. This blog will be featured on the Hudson River Park website to attract more visitors to this program. I also drafted a flyer to distribute around the neighborhood for the same purpose. At CityScience, I have reviewed their bank of classroom lesson plans and suggested six “tracks” by which to organize the curriculum. “Building the City” includes lessons on urban planning and architecture. “Sustaining the City” includes lessons on waste systems, energy systems, water engineering, and pollution, with a focus on stewardship. “The Story of Food” includes nutrition education as well as plant science lessons taught using fruits and vegetables. “Public Health Heroes” focuses on disease, epidemiology, and biomedical issues. “Urban Naturalist” focuses on the ecology of city parks and neighborhood. “Urban Geologist” focuses on the rocks and minerals in the city: both those exposed in outcrops and those used as building stones.