The University of Florida (UF) Thompson Earth Systems Institute (TESI) Moonshot kickoff took place on January 19th, 2019. The primary goal of the retreat was to connect scientific professionals with educators to discuss how TESI can best serve teachers and their students. Four participants from each of five school districts (Seminole, Escambia, Alachua, Lee and Palm Beach) were invited to participate in the pilot Moonshot project. District leaders were encouraged to attend as one of the participants.
The retreat started with a welcome from the director of TESI, Dr. Bruce MacFadden and Co-PI of the moonshot project Dr. Pavlo Antonenko. This was followed by introductions where Dr. MacFadden discussed the mission and vision of the new institute and the Moonshot project as well as the purpose of the kickoff retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to provide a space for teachers and scientist to collaboratively brainstorm ideas, understand team members’ viewpoints, share information, and build trust among all stakeholders. Sadie Mills and Adania Flemming, two core team members of TESI, gave a short presentation highlighting five main themes TESI hopes to address through the Moonshot project (Climate Responsibility, Natural Hazards, Healthy Waterways, Habitats and Biodiversity, and Earth Systems and the Economy). During the presentation teachers engaged in an activity aimed at identifying the environmental issues Florida students are thinking about. Shari Ellis, another core team member of TESI, then reviewed the pre-survey feedback for the retreat which highlighted past challenges teachers faced working with a scientist, availability, comfort level with kids, time pressures and difficulty aligning material to the curriculum. The opportunity to get students excited about science was noted as the major benefit of past experiences with scientists, per the pre-survey.
The rest of the meeting was divided into four hour-long modules which each consisted of a 10-minute spark, 30-minute breakout sessions and a 10-minute summary report of the breakout sessions. The break out groups were comprised of the three categories of teachers: elementary, middle and high school. The first module was led by one of the district administrators from Palm Beach County, Jennifer Davis. Her session focused on how teacher needs related to the Florida learning standards. She emphasized the importance of administrative support and necessary ‘buy-in’ from Math and English Language teachers in supporting science learning. Improved scientific literacy for students was a major discussion in the breakout sessions, as well as a need for proper relationships and an understanding between teachers and scientists.
The second module was led by a UF geology professor, Dr. Andrew Zimmerman. He discussed a group called GeoGators founded at UF to help deliver earth science lessons to K-12 students in a variety of settings. Following his session some important notes brought up in the breakout groups were that not all scientists can relate and connect their content to students, professional development (PD) is needed to provide guidance for teachers, a PD would be useful to help connect teachers to scientist for the moonshot project, and teachers felt that being paired to one scientist each (‘Adopt a scientist’) would allow them to organize a schedule that works for all parties. The third module was presented by Dr. Pasha Antonenko. Pasha discussed the importance of technology in connecting scientists to students. The breakout session following his spark concluded that there are multiple platforms used across the Florida school districts and it is sometimes a challenge to get IT support in schools. The fourth and final session was the wrap up session, led by Dr. Bruce MacFadden. This session amassed take home messages for the group, noted the potential next steps, and thanked participants for the important brainstorming that occurred during the retreat. Participants left the retreat full of ideas and excited to begin building scientist-school partnerships. We look forward to bringing you further updates on the progress of the Scientist in Every Florida School moonshot initiative!