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!