ngssA group of enthusiastic science teachers reunited at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Museum on October 20, 2015 to share science lessons inspired by local naval scientists.

The science lesson showcase was a culmination of teachers’ work from the Next Generation Science Teacher Leaders Institute held last July. Twenty-four teachers worked alongside four researchers from SPAWAR to develop innovative science lessons that will benefit more than 1,000 students. The two-day program was underwritten by a gift from Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) and developed by UC San Diego’s CREATE in partnership with Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD).

Sparked by research presented at the institute by SPAWAR scientists, each lesson was a K-12 adaptation of real San Diego science for a K-12 classroom, with activities linked to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The showcase featured SUHSD and SDUSD middle and high school teachers, including teachers from UC San Diego partnership schools Preuss and Gompers Preparatory Academy, presenting their lessons to one another and local visitors from the education community, including high school and elementary students. Visitors pumped up marshmallows, watched lasers go through “atmospheres” of various thickness, watched how bacteria produce electricity, and thought about how to measure biological signals in our bodies.

 SPAWAR’s Dr. Ken Richter, an institute adviser, presented research on deep-sea microbial fuel cells to teachers this summer.
SPAWAR’s Dr. Ken Richter, an institute advisor, presented research on deep-sea microbial fuel cells to teachers this summer.

At the summer institute, teachers formed small, cross-district teams to construct and hone a science lesson in a cycle called “lesson study.” In the lesson study cycle, SPAWAR scientists served as advisors, visiting each teacher’s classroom in the late summer and fall to watch teachers try out their lessons with students. Teachers then visited each other’s classrooms to observe the lesson in action and then regrouped to refine and finalize the work.

Spawar’s John deGrassie with SUHSD’s Katrine Czajkowski (left) and Nan Renner, UC San Diego CREATE.
Spawar’s John deGrassie with SUHSD’s Katrine Czajkowski (left) and Nan Renner, UC San Diego CREATE.

“The enthusiasm of the teachers is infectious and I marveled to watch them collaborate and create something greater than any one person could have created. The collaboration over two days in summer and in the classroom is critical.” – John deGrassie, SPAWAR scientist and Teacher Leaders Institute advisor.

“These teachers welcomed researchers into their classrooms and made a home for this work to occur,” said Katrine Czajkowski, SUHSD lead curriculum specialist. “Thanks to the researchers for making time for us, to help us realize the potential of NGSS as a vehicle for putting kids in contact with the science and math and engineering that matters – that real people do and that’s fun. Not only can you get power from mud and study the speed of dolphins, the energy they bring to this generates hope. And they respected our teacher colleagues; they recognized how difficult it is to teach well.”

Shaoni Bandyopadhyay, science teacher at The Preuss School UCSD, explains the pressure lesson she and her team created. Students explored a hands-on activity using bell jars and marshmallows to see pressure in action.
Shaoni Bandyopadhyay, science teacher at The Preuss School UCSD, explains the pressure lesson she and her team created. Students explored a hands-on activity using bell jars and marshmallows to see pressure in action.

“CREATE is an amazing bridge in our community, bringing together actual research with university personnel and engaging our teachers and our students,” said Michael Goodbody, SDUSD science resource teacher. “We want students to engage in phenomena, but we also want them to know what the world is like that we’re preparing them for. Having that big picture in mind and knowing what’s possible is really important to us.”

“We were so happy to partner with the two districts and the San Diego Science Project to pull off this learning experience,” said Susan Yonezawa, who helped shepherd the work with CREATE colleagues Kathryn Schulz, San Diego Science Project director, and CSSI Engineering Coordinator Dominga Sanchez. “We asked, ‘how do you help teachers who really want to learn more about how to create NGSS-aligned research-based lessons in their classrooms?’ The teachers dove in with us. These were lessons built out of the researchers’ work.”

“The new science standards are asking teachers to incorporate connections with engineering and real-world problems,” added Sanchez. “This was a great opportunity for teachers to really work with researchers and learn about what problems they are trying to solve. They were able to take that research into their classrooms.”

The “Schewbacca” Microbial Fuel Cell Team Teachers Danielle Vincent-Griffith (Crawford High School) (top left), Julie Walker (Rancho del Rey Middle School), Jen Ekstein (Bonita Vista High School), and SPAWAR researcher Ken Richter (right) with environmental science students from Bonita Vista High School.
The “Schewbacca” Microbial Fuel Cell Team – Teachers Danielle Vincent-Griffith, Crawford High School, (top left), Julie Walker, Rancho del Rey Middle School, Jen Ekstein, Bonita Vista High School, and SPAWAR researcher Ken Richter (right) with environmental science students from Bonita Vista High School.

Teachers said they most appreciated direct interactions with local scientists and ongoing discussions about how to adapt their science for K-12 classrooms, plus the chance to interact with teachers from other schools and districts.

Some reflections from teachers on the lesson study process:

“I personally benefited from learning from the researchers and getting clarification from the source. They added more details from their experience so an answer was deeper than the original question. Seeing the researcher’s excitement for their work and enjoyment being in a seventh grade class impressed the students.”

“I appreciated the opportunity to make networking connections with teacher colleagues and researchers. I liked the collaboration between districts and grade levels.”

Comments on lesson sharing at the showcase:

“I feel like I was watching a process of learning how to use local science for K-12. These teachers were amazing!”

“Allowing teachers to showcase their work from their classrooms was really powerful.”

Dialogue continued throughout the night about how to tap cutting-edge San Diego science in local classrooms, a key goal of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative at UC San Diego.

A new half-million dollar grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), received by CREATE in partnership with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, will engage a host of UC San Diego/SIO researchers funded by ONR in similar lesson development cycles with 72 local teachers.

As Czajkowski noted, “We’ve just started, we took a tiny little step. This next grant that we do, and our regional work, will extend and enrich the relationships we’ve already built.”

Want to get involved in using UC San Diego science in local classrooms? Contact Susan Yonezawa, CREATE associate director and CSSI network coordinator, or Kathryn Schulz, San Diego Science Project director.