On Sept. 16, more than 30 middle and high school science teachers participated in workshops hosted by Scientist in Every Florida School (SEFS) as a part of Collier County Public Schools’ district-wide professional development day.  

In the workshops, SEFS paired teachers with real-life researchers to develop strategies they could use to better engage their students in science. 

Working like a scientist 

Hannah Hiester, a program director at the Office of STEM Teaching Activities at Florida State University who researched fluid dynamics to study the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, held a session where she helped teachers understand how to create effective science labs.  

She compared different examples of lab tasks and setups and explored what benefits or drawbacks each approach offered students. She also led groups of teachers in a hands-on activity to brainstorm how to enhance example lab activities. 

The best labs are those that are student-powered, have real-world applications, and allow students to generate their own ideas, according to Hiester. 

“In general, it’s often good if we can center the students and get them to do the sense-making and bring in as many scientific practices as possible to help those students do what a scientist does,” Hiester said. 

Reading like a scientist 

Zihui Fang, a professor of literacy and language education at the University of Florida, hosted a workshop where he offered support and strategies for teaching struggling readers in science classes. Helping students become scientifically literate can be challenging because science texts often include ideas that are implicit, complex, abstract, and dense. 

However, some of the ways to improve science literacy include building a strong understanding of concepts first, as knowing content can help compensate for a lack of language proficiency.  

“Even though the language may be a little hard, we are able to wade through it,” Fang said. 

Fang also presented solutions like having kids read often from easy websites like Kids Discover, Science News for Students, and more. Having weekly book studies, highlighting interesting science vocabulary, and doing close reading of small sections to analyze language choices can also be helpful. 

“It is through the exploration of language that we enable kids to understand and see how scientists think,” Fang said. 

Learning from a scientist 

Michael Sipos, a Florida Sea Grant extension agent for Collier County, presented a lecture where he shared insights about his journey as a scientist and his work with marine species and fisheries. 

Through studying the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, tagging gag and red grouper to study how they are affected by pressure trauma, and his work educating the public on sustainable angling and environmental issues, Sipos had lessons to share from each project. He also told teachers about tips they could pass on to students about career options in marine science, available job boards, and even virtual field trip opportunities. 

“Life’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Sipos said when sharing his best advice for students interested in science. “You don’t have to know your passion right away.” 

Real-world insight 

Ryan Westberry, who coordinated the event for Collier County Public Schools, said he was happy with how the workshops turned out.  

“Science teachers are always interested in learning. What’s most important is [for teachers] to connect with a current scientist because if teachers stay in their silos, their classrooms, their only connection is through news and readings and articles,” Westberry said.  

“The capability of the professors and experts in the field that SEFS works with is really high caliber, and it’s just a great opportunity.” 

About SEFS 

The mission of the SEFS program is to engage Florida K-12 students and teachers in cutting-edge research by providing science role models and experiences that inspire the future stewards of our planet. SEFS fulfills this mission by hosting high-quality professional development programs for K-12 teachers, matching scientists with classrooms, hosting virtual field trips and live streams and producing educational videos.  

Learn more: www.bit.ly/SEFSsite 


Featured image of Collier County from Flickr user J. Stephen Conn (CC-BY-NC 2.0).